Thank goodness for the creative pedigree behind this much-loved, classic Broadway musical, for on occasions the original book and score save the day in Michael Grandage’s flawed but extremely likeable production.
The Donmar team of Grandage and designer Christopher Oram has produced some thrilling work in recent times, not least the stagings of Grand Hotel and Merrily We Roll Along. Now in the West End, the results are consistently nice and even joyful but rarely does one get the gut feeling that something exciting is taking place.
On a positive note, Grandage adds some clever touches of his own and never over-directs. Along with relatively low-key sets and costumes, the focus is very much on the characters and story that make this Broadway fable so memorable. That is all well and good in a smaller environment but it is hard not to yearn for more colour and a good dose of old-fashioned razzmatazz.
These extra ingredients are regularly present, however, when choreographer Rob Ashford and the ensemble are being employed. In the sizzling Havana number - when gambler Sky Masterson watches Sister Sarah Brown let her hair down worlds away from the Salvation Army mission - and in the cheeky Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat sequence, Ashford’s experience of working on the Great White Way is evident.
The same could also be said of recent Tony Award-winner Jane Krakowski, who gives a wonderful performance as the ever-engaged Adelaide, so desperate to marry Douglas Hodge’s Nathan Detroit that she catches a psychosomatic cold. Blessed with great stage presence, Krakowski brings a saucy worldliness to the role, although it is a shame that Hodge’s Detroit is more village idiot than charming chancer.
In the other lovers’ corner, it is homegrown talent that shines in the shape of Jenna Russell’s sweet-voiced Sergeant Brown. Proving she can hold her own as a romantic lead, Russell excels on all counts and, along with Krakowski, reveals a knack for the piece’s somewhat neglected comic timing.
The disconcertingly boyish McGregor makes less of an impression than might have been expected and his vocal range is tested at times. Still, his charming performance is likely to become more relaxed and instinctive - the Luck Be a Lady number in a tighter Act II is proof of that. His casting will also be the one main reason why audiences will book to see Guys and Dolls, knowing nothing of its history. These fans will not be comparing this production to the now legendary 1982 staging at the National Theatre and that is a good thing.
Bringing Frank Loesser’s timeless score to all its New York life is a swinging orchestra led by principal conductor Jae Alexander. These musicians send you out of the theatre with a spring in your step whatever your reservations.