Guys and Dolls

May 4, 2018 | By | 1 Reply More

★★★★☆   Distinctive

King’s Theatre: Wed 2 – Sat 5 May 2018
Review by Thom Dibdin

By focussing on the music, and getting it pretty much spot on, Edinburgh Music Theatre succeed in bringing out the theatre in Guys and Dolls at the King’s all week until Saturday.

First staged in 1950, the musical is a favourite of amateur companies and audiences alike. But while it doesn’t have some of the more dated excesses of its contemporaries, it needs the kind of strong staging that EMT provides here to ensure it doesn’t flaunt its outdated attitudes.

Kirsten Adamson. Pic Alan Potter of StagePics.co.uk.

Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book tells of a pair of love stories – petty hoodlum Nathan Detroit with cabaret singer Adelaide Adams, and high-rolling gambler Sky Masterton with Salvation Army stalwart Sarah Brown. It’s set against the attempts by Detroit to find a new venue for his (illegal) oldest established floating crap game in New York.

It is a slow burn though, bringing the sharp, stylised fifties New York hoodlum patter of Damon Runyon’s original short stories life.



Director Louise Sables finds plenty for the company to do in the opening orchestral number, Runyonland, setting the scene of Broadway, with its gullible tourists, drunks, pick-pockets, street entertainers, prattling chorus girls and loafing gambler. Cliches all, of course, but a perfect intro to Runyon’s cartoonish depiction of low-life.

precision and punch

Tony Jackson and Fraser Shand don’t do much to dispel the cliches as Nathan’s right-hand men, “Nicely Nicely” Johnson and Benny Southstreet. But when they are joined by Michael Poon as Rusty Charlie and the first proper number, Fugue for Tinhorns, kicks in with a real precision and punch to its delivery, you realise that the night isn’t going to be as long as once it looked.

Luck be a Lady – Alex Kantor and company. Alan Potter of StagePics.co.uk

Things look up again with the arrival of Naomi Barkley as Sarah Brown, leading her mission band in Follow the Fold with a big, operatic, almost florid, style to her delivery. It contrasts well with punchy delivery of the hoodlums, lead by Colin Richardson, who carries himself with a suitably rat-like demeanour as Nathan Detroit.

The real strength in the production’s musical delivery is made most obvious in the duet I’ll Know, between Sarah and Alex Kantor’s Sky. They bring out the nuance of Frank Losser’s music with the different styles for their delivery, while the storytelling really begins to bite – Nathan has bet Sky the $1,000 he needs to establish his craps game, that Sky can’t take Sarah on a date to Havana.

One of the joys of Guys and Dolls is its big set-pieces. And the first of these, A Bushel and a Peck, gives a glimpse of the strength of Kirsten Adamson as Adelaide Adams. She has the New Yoik nasal twang down perfectly, but it is her vocal delivery which enthrals – she has real strength right up to the top of her range.

involved in the storytelling

She can certainly sell a song too, whether it is with the backing of the excellent Hot Box dancing girls and vocal chorus, or it is setting out her desire for Nathan, her fiancé of 14 years, to get to the alter (and the psychosomatic cold she is acquiring as a result of his failure), in Adelaide’s lament.

The Hot Box girls. Pic Alan Potter of StagePics.co.uk

The second half set pieces don’t disappoint, either. Too often they can jump out of the surrounding plot with little relevance to what has gone before. No such problem for Sables, who really gets her performers involved in the storytelling.

The irony is that while the gamblers are operating on the wrong side of the law, they are a strongly moral bunch. They don’t welch on a bet and if violence is to be resorted to, fisticuffs are as deadly as they get.

So that when it gets down to the central craps game, and Steve Griffin as Big Jule brings out his blank dice, things get properly tense as the Detroit interloper does the good guys of New York down. And it is out of this tension that the joy that is Luck Be A Lady rises, as naturally as breathing.

flamboyance

Similarly, Tony Jackson justifies his casting as Nicely with a Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat that is much more than a set piece, and is an integral part of the storytelling. It does somewhat help that Bekki Black’s choreography (strong and appropriate throughout) drives it with just the right level of flamboyance.

Tony Jackson and company. Pic Alan Potter of StagePics.co.uk

The is a production which is packed with delights. Take Back Your Mink gives Adamson a second chance to shine, while If I Were A Bell allows Barkley to show her range.

There are some great cameo roles too. Scott Kenneway rolls it out as avuncular Salvation Army member Arvide Arbarnathy. He doesn’t try to force his voice on More I Can Not Wish, and it is all the more poignant for it, a thoughtful gentleness towards Sarah Brown. And by accentuating that moderation, it just makes his big laugh line all the more powerful.

Jill Grimmond doesn’t get a big solo as General Matilda Cartwright, but she does get to boss the big finale prayer meeting. Oozing a most un-Christian level of sarcasm and the kind of teacherly voice that is used to being obeyed, she owns it, big time.

There have been plenty of opportunities to savour the delights of Guys and Dolls in recent years, and not doubt it will keep coming back. But in this production, EMT have rolled a natural eleven – a winner in any game.

Running time: two hours and 40 minutes (including one interval)
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ.
Wednesday 2 – Saturday 5 May 2018
Evenings: 7.30 pm; Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Tickets and details: http://www.capitaltheatres.com/guysanddolls.

EMT Website: http://edinburghtheatre.co.uk.
Facebook: @edinburghmusictheatre.
Twitter: @EdMusicTheatre.

ENDS

 

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  1. Anne Ranson says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed Saturday’s matinee of Guys and Dolls.
    The cast were excellent. I thought Kirsten Adamson was amazing and funny, and Alex Kantor’s singing and acting so professional, but I have to say my favourite was Tony Jackson who played a brilliant part as “Nicely” and I loved his performance of …rocking the boat!
    Incredible to think of these people are amateurs. They were wonderful! King’s theatre is a lovely venue and I will be looking out for more shows from now on.
    Thanks all!!

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