In the 1950s musical Guys and Dolls, boys and boys and women are, well…dolls. It’s a New York City world of gambling men, their long suffering lovers and the Salvation Army workers whose mission is to clean up the streets and convert lost souls.
Like many musicals, the characters are more caricatures than deeply nuanced individuals. Written by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, from characters created by Damon Runyon, the Guys and Dolls cast is a check list of stock types. There is the wiry, highly strung Nathan Detroit (Garry McDonald), the hustler who can’t commit to marrying his girlfriend after 14 years and Miss Adelaide (Marina Prior), aforementioned frustrated girlfriend and nightclub dancer. Sarah Brown (Lisa McCune) - the naïve but well-meaning missionary, falls in love with one of the sneaky gamblers, Sky Masterson (Ian Stenlake) and struggles with her own conflict between purity and sin.
You won’t find any feminist messages or psycho-analysis on love here. But you will find a good old fashioned musical that has enough great song and dance for a fun night at the theatre. Performances across the board are steady, with stand outs from Prior, whose New York accent is thicker than honey and McCune as the mousey Brown who, after a couple of spiked milk shakes, lets loose in big song and dance number Havana. While other performers come across stronger as either singers or actors, both extremely versatile women nail all aspects of their singing, dancing and acting roles.
On opening night, the cast got off to a slow-ish start, but as nerves subsided, the energy grew. By the time Magda Szubanski made her entrance as Big Jule, the portly and ferocious gambler from Chicago, the show was well in stride. Highlights are Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat, a men’s ensemble number in the temperance hall where Nicely Nicely Johnson (Shane Jacobson) unites the gamblers to attention in a bouncy, well-choreographed routine. His singing isn’t spectacular, but his presence and charisma work and really bring the number together. Equally energetic and dazzling is Luck Be a Lady, again an ensemble dance for the men where the swift linear patterns and quick jumps evoke the adrenalin of the illegal craps game taking place in a sewer and the euphoric high of betting against the odds.
The women’s ensemble, whose dancing includes nightclub strip teases - Bushel and a Peck and Take Back Your Mink and Salvation Army marching routines, are strong dancers and also sustain the show’s momentum.
Co-produced by The Ambassador Theatre Group and Donmar Warehouse, Guys and Dolls covers the bases as a revival. It’s a fairly traditional restaging and perhaps it could use a bit more zing in some of its stage direction and design, but overall it will please a fairly large crowd looking for some classic musical theatre with engaging performances. With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and choreography by Rob Ashford (original choreographer) and Chris Bailey, it has that large scale, razzle-dazzle appeal that you just don’t find in other genres.
Howard Panter for The Ambassador Theatre Group, Dennis Smith for Shows Inc and Marriner Theatres present
The Donmar Warehouse Production of
Guys and Dolls
A Musical Fable of Broadway
Venue: Princess Theatre
Dates: March 26 - May 11, 2008
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012 or www.ticketek.com.au