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BWW Review: GUYS AND DOLLS Brings Damon Runyon's Quirky Characters To Life


Reviewed by Barry Lenny, Thursday 1st October 2015

Guys and Dolls is based largely on the short stories, The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure, two of the many humorous short stories written in the first person and the vernacular by Damon Runyon. If you have read the stories you will know that the dialogue is true to Runyon's writing. If you have not read them, you should, because they are well worthwhile, even if you do find yourself talking somewhat like a New York hoodlum for days after. The very successful and popular musical has music by Frank Loesser and lyrics by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. This production, by the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of South Australia is directed by Karen Sheldon, with musical director, Martin Cheney, and choreographer, Kerry Hauber completing the team.

Nathan Detroit runs a craps (dice) game, and Sky Masterson is in town, so a venue must be found quickly to accommodate this highest of all high rollers. Encountering Sister Sarah Brown and her fellow members of the Save-A-Soul Mission, Nathan bets Sky that he cannot win over any girl of his choosing and take her on a trip to Havana. Sky has a way of captivating the attention of women, and so he accepts, but he was not expecting Nathan to choose Sister Sarah. Meanwhile, Nathan has woman troubles of his own, his very, very long-term fiancée, Miss Adelaide, rebelling at the continuing absence of a wedding ring.

The musical has four primary characters, the comic couple, Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide, and the more conventional romantic couple, Sky Masterson and Sister Sarah. They are surrounded by a myriad characters, some quite prominent, and others fleetingly mentioned, all of whom add to the atmosphere of Broadway after dark, when the less than savoury members of society emerge to go about their various affairs.

Brendan Cooney gave his Nathan Detroit all of the wiliness and deviousness needed in the role of a crafty underworld character who runs illegal gambling games, and takes a percentage of every pot in exchange for providing safe venues. His dodging and weaving to avoid marriage, lying and bluffing to the policeman dedicated to catching him out, and to the gamblers when a venue is elusive, are all handled superbly by Cooney. He is right off the pages of the book.

Jeri Williams, as the luckless and frustrated Miss Adelaide, with a permanent cold, psychosomatically related to being fourteen years engaged, and with still no sign of a wedding, provides plenty of laughs. Adelaide's Lament, in which she analyses her ongoing sniffles, proved a big hit with the audiences, although her other songs also garnered plenty of applause, this just had more. She has a fine sense comic timing and created a fun characterisation that could not fail to appeal.

Sky Masterson is played by Jason Bensen who shows us the confident and self-sufficient loner who tours the country seeking the next gamble, and who will bet any amount on any proposition. As he points out, the two things that have been in every hotel room in the country are himself and the Gideon Bible. He is proud of his independence, but pride, we are told, cometh before a fall, and fall he does, for Sister Sarah, his complete opposite. Bensen goes on to convey all of the conflicting emotions and associated actions caused by this unexpected turn of events with a warmth of expression, and a touching performance.

Sophia Bubner gives Sister Sarah Brown all of the sweetness and light that one might expect of a young lady steeped in religion, with a sheltered upbringing. We see that, although she has been attempting to save the souls of the wicked, she has seen them only as a generic collection and, until she meets Sky, has never really treated each of them as am individual. Bubner shows us, convincingly, that her preconceptions have been seriously challenged by this meeting and she discovers that there is more to a gambler than somebody who gambles, that they are people with all of the feelings, wishes and hopes that she has herself. Bubner's portrayal of Sarah's growth and changes is moving.

Nicholas Bishop, as Nicely Nicely Johnson, was marvellous throughout, and then stopped the show with his feature number, Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat. This, and Sky's song, Luck Be a Lady, are probably the two best known songs from the show, and have both had lives outside of the show, particularly for Stubby Kaye, who played Nicely Nicely Johnson, reviving his role from the 1950 original stage production, and Frank Sinatra, who actually played Nathan Detroit in the 1955 film version (Marlon Brando played Sky). You know that your show is good when people take the numbers and record them separately.

Ian Brown portrays Sarah's kindly and wise grandfather, Arvide Abernathy, another missionary, and gives a wonderful rendition of More I Cannot Wish You as he comforts her, while Robert Drusetta is ideal as the heavy from Chicago, Big Jule, whose gambling luck is aided by the threatening presence of the gun in his shoulder holster. As the hapless police officer, Lt. Brannigan, Tim Blackshaw comically displays his ire at finding himself thwarted at every turn.

The cast is far too large to mention every person individually but suffice to say that they all contribute successfully to the performance, with enthusiasm and energy unabated in spite of the great workload that this musical demands.

Aside from some inaccuracies in the trumpets, and solo voices occasionally being drowned by the orchestra or chorus, in spite of head microphones being used, a fault of the sound operator, the show ran smoothly. The chorus numbers and dance routines, thanks to musical director, Martin Cheney, and choreographer, Kerry Hauber, were superb, and Karen Sheldon's unerring direction kept up a great pace and created plenty of light and shade. As this is one of my favourite musicals it was a pleasure to see it performed so well. Youonly have until Saturday 10th October to catch this production.

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From This Author Barry Lenny