Rebel Wilson’s West End debut is a triumph. As Miss Adelaide, the sassy showgirl with a horrible cold and a terrible crush on her gambler fiancée Nathan Detroit, she’s a breathless whirlwind of energy. Her ad-libs are hilarious, her singing voice is terrific, her comic timing impeccable and she perfectly nails a nasal American accent.
In films Wilson has so far been a one-trick pony, although it’s a great trick. She uses her size to very funny effect, naming herself Fat Amy in the Pitch Perfect
movies and remarking that she’s not pregnant, just fat in the godawful Grimsby
. She owns her size as much as she channels a defiant sex appeal that yells “This is who I am”, which is why she’s got such a big gay fanbase.
And she owns the stage in Guys And Dolls
every time she appears. She doesn’t quite capture the sadness behind the sass the way Sophie Thompson, Emma’s gifted sister who played Miss Adelaide when the production debuted at the Savoy Theatre, did. But, like the show itself, she leaves you with a big grin on your face.
As I wrote when reviewing the musical during its Savoy run, it’s the breezy plot, snappy dialogue and great tunes that make Guys And Dolls
a classic and it’s thrillingly staged in this new revival, which marks another triumphant transfer for the Chichester Festival Theatre after last year’s Gypsy
It’s a fantastic production, delivering the high spirits of a story that revolves around gamblers and missionaries in a hustling, bustling New York City. Nathan Detroit is looking to set up a crap game whilst trying to keep his Miss Adelaide happy. His gambling pal Masterston, meanwhile, has accepted a bet that he can’t whisk Save-A-Soul mission worker Sarah Brown off to Havana on a date.
Comedy naturally ensues, plus romantic stirrings and conflicting emotions – all beautifully captured by the timeless Frank Loesser songs ranging from the lovely optimistic ditty I’ll Know
via the classic Luck Be A Lady
to the show-stopping Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat
. The latter features a bunch of gamblers atoning for their sins and it’s so rousing it comes with not one but two encores.
Siubhan Harrison is the only leading cast member to transfer from the Savoy to the Phoenix. As Sarah Brown, the devout Bible-basher whose sexuality is awakened by Sky, she has the show’s least flashy role but she’s in fine voice – even better than before, in fact - and makes for a very amusing drunk.
Simon Lipkin is great as Nathan Detroit, younger than his forerunner David Haig presumably to make him a more suitable match for 36-year-old Wilson, and he has a nice line in befuddled comedy. I’m not so sure about Oliver Tompsett, though, as Sky Masterston, who doesn’t have the sex appeal that Jamie Parker displayed previously.
But he’s the only weak link in a show that continues to soar and Rebel Wilson is a must-see in it. Let’s hope she’s fallen in love with musical theatre as much as audiences will inevitably fall in love with her Miss Adelaide because the West End is a brighter place for having her in it.
Rebel Wilson is in Guys And Dolls is at the Phoenix Theatre, London, until August 21st. For information and tickets visit guysanddollsthemusical.co.uk.
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Words: Simon Button