There was a frisson of expectation throughout Theatreland when it was announced that actress and comedian Rebel Wilson was to make her West End debut as nightclub singer Miss Adelaide. Inspired choice or a risky piece of stunt casting that would bring critical derision raining down on a show that has done good business so far?
Well, doubters can relax. You would have to be extremely churlish not to admit that Rebel takes the show by storm. Her performance is a triumph of sassy physical comedy and impeccable timing.
Subtle, it ain’t. But then anyone who comes to see Rebel Wilson for nuanced understatement are at the wrong show. While she might not quite capture the pathos of the showgirl who dreams of a life away from sleazy nightclub The Hot Spot, her brash and gloriously brassy turn is winning.
She gurns her way through the comic moments to hilarious effect, with saucy asides that were probably never in the authors’ imaginations. And she’s irresistible in the musical numbers, especially Take Back Your Mink and A Bushel and a Peck performed with the wonderful Hot Box girls.
Rebel’s fearless turn gives the production a new dynamic – as demonstrated by the whoops and cheers that greeted her entrance from a young audience that you wouldn’t normally expect to find at a show like this. Her larger-than-life presence doesn’t overpower a production that is still in great shape despite this being the third set of leads since its West End opening in January.
The new Nathan Detroit, Simon Lipkin, brings a hangdog charm to the role and shares a great chemistry with Rebel, while Oliver Tompsett is a slick Sky Masterson. Among the original cast members, Siubhan Harrison sings like a dream as Salvation Army officer Sarah Brown and proves a dab hand at physical comedy in the Havana routine. Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat remains the evening’s showstopper in the hands of Gavin Spokes – another original cast member – as Nicely-Nicely Johnson.