Melanie Marshall as General Cartwright and Jack Edwards as Nicely-Nicely entreat everyone to sit down and not rock the boat. Pictures: Johan Persson

Guys and Dolls

Wolverhampton Grand

****

THIS is one of the great musicals, up there with the likes of West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Cabaret, Les Miserables . . . and a sheer delight from beginning to end.

It is lively, colourful, has superb set which gives you everything from the New York skyline, to nightclubs and even Times Square, plenty of laskyughs, a bit of pathos, an unlikely romance, good strong songs, including the likes of Luck be a Lady and Sit Down, you’re rocking the boat all to an outstanding 12-piece orchestra. What isn’t to like?

It might be of pensionable age by now, it first appeared on Broadway in 1950, but age hardly matters with such a well-crafted show with a strong enough storyline to stand on its own, colourful characters and songs written to compliment the dialogue rather than just shoehorned in – a feature of too many modern jukebox musicals. 

Richard Fleeshman as Sky, rolling dice for the souls of sinners and asking luck to be a lady tonight

It is based on two of Damon Runyon’s short stories The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure set on Broadway in the prohibition years, a world and even a language he invented full of characters such as Harry the Horse, Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Benny Southside and Rusty Charlie, a world of gamblers, gangsters and showgirls. It you haven’t read Runyon then perhaps you should.

The book by Joe Swirling and Abe Burrows is faithful to Runyon and his eccentric characters while the music from Frank Loesser is clever and witty from his opening number, Fugue for Tinhorns, three different songs, sung simultaneously by Nicely-Nicely, Benny and Rusty, which, trust me, is not easy.

The musical surrounds Nathan Detroit’s search for a location for his illegal craps game, The oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York. The only place on offer is the Biltmore Garage, which wants $1,000 cash up front.

Maxwell Caulfield is a believable Detroit, avoiding marriage, ducking and dodging his way through life, living on his wits and always needing cash.

Which brings in a bet for said $1,000 with high roller, bet on anything, Sky Masterson who is bet he can’t take the religious and pious Miss Sarah Brown to Havana for dinner. Richard Fleeshman is a likeable Sky, suave, sophisticated - at least against the rest of the Broadway low-life - and with a decent voice.

Bethany Lindsell is a straight-laced Miss Brown, who runs the Save a Soul mission which, in truth, is struggling to find any souls to save. She has a nice voice which blends well with Sky in their duets and has no idea that it is Detroit’s bet that has set in train a world of romance.

When it comes to romance though, Detroit’s train is stuck in the sidings, having been engaged to Miss Adelaide for 14 years. Adelaide is a lovely comedy role and Louise Dedetraoit and Adelaidearman does it full justice with her asides and one liners devoid of all logic, and, of course, her kitsch nightclub act at the Hot Box.

Nicely-Nicely is played with a sense of fun by the larger than life Jack Edwards with Sit Down, you’re rocking the boat a highlight.

There is good support from Peter Harding as Sarah’s grandfather Arvide, Mark Sangster as Benny, Christopher Howell as Rusty Charlie, Craig Pinder as Harry the Horse, Cameron Johnson as Big Jule, Anthony McGill as Lt Branigan and Melanie Marshall General Cartwright.

Maxwell Caulfield as Detroit, promoter of the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York, doesn't want to rush things with Louise Dearman's Miss Adelaide, after all thery have only been engaged 14 years.

Choreography is slick and clever, as you might expect from Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright which director Gordon Greenberg keeps everything moving along at a cracking pace, helped by Peter McKintosh’s wonderfully flexible design of a semi-circular wall of advertising panels which, thanks to the wonder of LEDs and computers can be nightclub, skyline, street scenes or even Havana.

The Chichester Festival Theatre production passed through on its way to the West End last year -where it remains until at least October and this is a new touring production, but the West End production values are still there for all to see. A class musical and a class production. To 23-07-16

Roger Clarke

29-07-16

 

And down the street . . .

****

THIS is one of the great musicals that has never required one big number to lift the audience, but if you needed to look for a show stopper it would surely be Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.

It comes near the end when the gamblers are confessing their sins to music in New York’s Save a Soul Mission, and Jack Edwards, playing the chubby Nicely-Nicely Johnson, leads the way with his scary dream of going overboard on a cruise to heaven.

A brilliant performance by Edwards, earning a huge ovation from the first night audience, and this 1950 hit, which spawned the movie starring Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Jean Simmons, is still able to pack ‘em in.

It is staged on a clever, electronic set, and the story is full of warmth, humour and wonderful choreography by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright.

Richard Fleeshman and Bethany Lindsell haven’t the best voices I have heard for the love interest roles of big-time gambler Sky Masterson and Sgt Sarah Brown, who runs the mission, but move up a few gears when they join the cast of a Havana night club for an alcohol-fuelled dance that sends the pulses racing.

The most convincing couple in this colourful musical are Maxwell Caufield, playing the amusing floating crap game organiser Nathan Detroit, and his so-patient fiancee of 14 years, Hot Box club singer-dancer Miss Adelaide (Louise Dearman). They have some great moments.

And there is a spectacular scene in a sewer where the gamblers meet to play out of sight of the cops, dance to Luck Be a Lady, and visiting gangster Big Jule (Cameron Johnson) insists on using his own pair of dice from which he has removed the numbers . . . but can remember what they were!

Andy Massey is musical director of a fine show which runs to 23-07-16

Paul Marston 

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