Guys and Dolls

Theatre, Musicals
Recommended
3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

The high-rollin' musical classic is back, now with added Rebel Wilson

Hollywood comedian Rebel Wilson is a slightly random but certainly not unwelcome addition to the cast of the West End's 'Guys and Dolls'. 

Gordon Greenberg's production has been running in London - first at the Savoy, now at the Phoenix - since the end of last year, and hasn't hitherto relied on celebrity casting. But Wilson’s arrival seems mutually convenient: this revival of the classic New York-set gangsters musical gets a commercial shot in the arm during the traditionally slow summer months;  big musicals nut Wilson gets to live out her dreams for a limited stint (she’s there until Aug 21) without the pressure that comes with being tasked with carrying a brand new production.

I say her casting is slightly random, because for all its ebullience, silliness and sly wit, 'Guys and Dolls' is an very classy 1950 musical. Nobody swears, nobody farts. Wilson is a very modern comic actor, from a world where everybody swears and everybody farts. Her take on ditzy, 14-years engaged cabaret dancer Miss Adelaide is more vulgar and more stylised than most: lustily grabbing crotches, pulling weird facial expressions, speaking in a glue-thick Brooklyn accent that makes it sound like she’s just been lobotomised; inevitably having fun with her plus-size physicality during her two big numbers. In isolation, it genuinely works, because Wilson is a funny woman. When she interacts with somebody else, it kind of doesn’t, because her aggressively laugh-mining style is at odds with the more soulful performances from around her. But that’s okay: most of Adelaide’s scenes are pretty standalone, substantially based on a couple of OTT song-and-dance umbers, which she dispatches with gleeful brio. 

And the show has strong enough fundamentals to handle her. Now on its third set of leads, the cast isn’t quite as tip-top as the initial one, but there are still plenty of survivors from back then: it’s wonderful to see Gavin Spokes still there with his Olivier-nominated turn as affable gangster Nicely Nicely. His barnstorming rendition of climatic faux gospel number ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’ is still utterly sublime, a reminder that ‘Guys and Dolls’ is bigger than any one actor.

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