When this Donmar Warehouse revival of Guys and Dolls first opened directly into the West End in June, all attention was inevitably focused on Ewan McGregor’s debut as an all-singing, all-dancing theatrical leading man, but that is not in fact director Michael Grandage’s method. He works to build an entire dramatic picture, not just a series of star moments, and some were a bit disappointed that McGregor did not stand out more.
While anchoring this affectionate cartoon portrait of a fictional low-life New York in a grittier reality, Grandage has given us a production where the colour is provided by the characters, not the sets, with the bright lights of Broadway rendered in mere lightbulbs rather than neon. But the replacement of three of the four original principals sees the show shining just as brightly as before, if not more so.
And though its new top billed stars might be best known as television soap actors, they both have strong musical theatre pedigrees from before that they are now able to call on even as they marshal their celebrity to give them more commercial clout. Nigel Harman (EastEnders, but a long time alumni of musicals like Privates on Parade, when he was also directed by Grandage, Mamma Mia! and others) has a much more secure tenor than McGregor did, and is more confidently at home in the musical numbers as a result.
Sarah Lancashire (Coronation Street, but whose Audrey in an Oldham Little Shop of Horrors was award-winning) is simultaneously brassy, tough and vulnerable as the permanently adenoidal Miss Adelaide, well-known fiancée to Nathan Detroit (Nigel Lindsay, new to musicals). Jenna Russell, the sole hold-over amongst the top four from before, remains an enchanting delight as Sister Sarah.