ANOTHER CHICHESTER SMASH COMES WEST
This is a revisit, to a partly recast Chichester show: and I must admit I had qualms about losing that generosity, that overflowing vigour you get with the classic musicals on the Festival Theatres’ great three-sided arena. Back in the retro, ornate proscenium world of the Savoy I feared it would be somehow constrained by the square magnificence. And, not least, whether the amazing 3D choreography by Andrew Wright and Carlos Acosta would feel cramped.
But the magic is still there: how could it not be, in Frank Loesser’s exuberant 1950 fairytale of gamblers, showgirls and tambourine-banging missionaries out to convert them. The book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, drew on Damon Runyon’s world: a sunny, larky, airbrushed almost Wodehousian interpretation of New York lowlife. Even Big Jule (Nic Greenshields) is lovable in his gun-toting menace. And Peter McKintosh’s great illuminated arc of nostalgic advertising posters – pure Disney, in a good way – works remarkably well, especially in the clever use of deep darkness upstage, a chiaroscuro effect which makes the stage look bigger than it is. So Gordon Greenberg’s production sings and soars pretty well unfettered. And the choreography – especially the Cuba scene and the leapfrogging, hurtling, somersaulting gamblers in suits and ties – is positively Acostacrobatic, spectacular. “Siddown you’re rocking the boat” is a bit less overwhelming than at Chichester, but still one of the top sights of the London spring. Selina Hamilton is London’s Havana diva, and brawls a treat with the missionary – Siubhan Harrison magnificently taking over as Sgt Sarah with fearless drunken hurtling. And Sophie Thompson’s Miss Adelaide is back, as at Chichester : adorably crazy, whether amid her Hot Box hoofers in gingham corsetry or bewailing her reluctant fiancé. Irresistible is her high Bronx twang swoops gloriously down to a dismayed baritone, her stooping S-shaped anxiety the flip side of her bravura career.
In this London production her paramour is David Haig: back in his trademark moustache (we sort of missed it in his magnificent performance in the Madness of George III a couple of years back). He is a lovely Nathan Detroit: a middle-manager of the underworld, one minute assured in his crap-game management, the next cringing at Big Jule, but intensely likeable (and an unsuspectedly fine singer). And Jamie Parker reprises Sky Masterson – chiselled and cool, letting the the character breathe, hesitate, and genuinely change as he falls in love. the laughing cheer when he reappears with his Mission uniform had a real audience warmth to it. And Greenberg’s detailed, loving production keeps its fine passing jokes: my favourite being the moment when he makes momentarily solid the women’s dreams of a ruralized Nathan and domesticated Sky. It takes only seconds, that, but adds to the sum of happiness; so does the real steam from the New York pavement gratings and the momentary appearance (twice) of a wobbly nun on a bicycle with a collecting-bucket.
So yes, the Chichester magic is still there. It can keep its full tally of happy, hoofing, dancing mice. It’s romping on into March, and a fine night out.
box office cft.org.uk 01243 781312 to 12 March