Marvin Hamlisch's fiery Broadway noir musical finally makes its London premiere in a production that flaunts a smart and edgy razzle-dazzle cut with murky violence. David Bamber plays JJ Hunsecker (a role originated by Burt Lancaster in the 1957 film of the same name), a pitiless gossip columnist with New York in the palm of his heavily greased hands. Hunsecker is an information broker, and, in a '50s America doused with McCarthy-era paranoia, information is the deadliest weapon in town.
Adrian Der Gregorian plays hapless press man Sidney, sucked into the heart of Hunsecker's operations by escalating ambition and complicity. The cast is first-rate, particularly Bamber as the godfather of gossip with a wincingly creepy obsession with his young sister Susan (a superb Caroline Keiff).
It's this undercurrent of darkness that really sets'Sweet Smell of Success'aside. Inconclusive and underplayed though it may be, there is something fundamentally rotten about Hunsecker that runs deeper than a simple lust for power.
The band is cooking and Hamlisch's music tumbles forward on a relentless beat, backed by Nathan M Wright's pinpoint choreography. Craig Carnelia's incisive lyrics are a perfect fit, as cool and as dynamic as Hamlisch's jazz-inflected score. Mehmet Ergen's production is a bold and booming musical storm that feels fit to burst right out of the Arcola and onto the West End.