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BWW Reviews: GUYS AND DOLLS Opens to Much Applause in Melbourne

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Chelsea Plumley (Miss Adelaide) and Adam Murphy (Nathan Detroit)

Now in its sixteenth year, The Production Company continues to showcase great shows through exceptional Australian talent. Continuing this trend is the Gale Edwards directed musical fable of Broadway, Guys and Dolls, which opened at Melbourne's State Theatre on Saturday 19 July. Guys and Dolls offers Melbourne theatre goers an opportunity to see a classic piece of musical theatre comedy performed with a vibrancy, enthusiasm, and imagination that make Damon Runyon's story, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrow's book, and Frank Loesser's music of sixty years ago essential viewing for theatre goers of today. Guys and Dolls has always been classic. This production confirms that status while also representing yet another highly commendable credit in the growing list of shows from The Production Company.

One of the first things that stood out in this production is the visiblility of the orchestra. So often they are hidden in the orchestra pit and heard but not seen. This is not the case for Guys and Dolls, which has the orchestra on a platform above the stage, resulting in them being a much more appreciated aspect of the performance. There is definitely something about being able to both both see and hear the orchestra - especially during the Overture, Havana, and the Entr'acte.

The second aspect of the production that stood out was Shaun Gurton's set design and its ability to capture the main themes and symbolic elements of the show. Guys and Dolls is essentially a story about luck and chance. Whether it be the luck involved in the underground games of craps that reap and plunder thousands with the roll of the dice, or the mere chance involved in finding that 'right' person, the notion of a game of chance being central to life is intrinsic to the story and its characters. The numerous dice illustrated on the backdrop capture this beautifully. More subtle but equally significant, the staging design employs an elevated face of a die as the stage section upon which most of the show is performed. This is a show about luck, chance, and the roll of the dice, performed on the face of the said arbiter, the dice itself. It is a seemingly simple but extremely effective means of conveying the major themes and ideas of the story.

Four characters are central to this life long game of chance, these being Nathan Detroit, Miss Adelaide, Sky Masterson, and Sarah Brown.

Nathan Detroit (Adam Murphy) has been engaged to Miss Adelaide (Chelsea Plumley) for fourteen years, unable to take that final step down the aisle. This generates some wonderful dialogue between these two that is worth the ticket price alone - clearly they work well together. Plumley's performance of A Bushel And A Peck, Adelaide's Lament, and Take Back Your Mink also provide plenty of well-timed hilarity accompanied by some stunning costume designs that simply sparkle. Adam Murphy, something of a Production Company veteran, is successful in bringing all of the inner contradictions and uncertainties of Detroit to the fore - his feelings for Miss Adelaide versus loyalty to the boys of the craps cohort being the major duel he faces. It is a dilemma to which many will relate. The relationship between Adelaide and Detroit highlights the challenges of any relationship in a humorous way, with some ironical contradictions between man and woman and their unreciprocated expectations. Ultimately the truth can seem like the biggest lie, as Miss Adelaide discovers.

The other key relationship is that of Sky Masterson (Martin Crewes) and Sarah Brown (Verity Hunt-Ballard). Very much built around the idea of growth and change, both Masterson and Brown evolve in different directions of self-realization as the narrative progresses, creating the possibility of one of the most unlikely relationships imaginable. Crewes and Hunt-Ballard deliver a show-stopping duet just before interval, giving a masterly rendition of I've Never Been In Love. The relationship between Masterson and Brown has intrinsic appeal because of its inherently low likelihood, something that is heightened by the strong performances of both Crewes and Hunt-Ballard in bringing out these underlying and seemingly opposed character traits. They also typify the very nature of chance - the roll of the dice and the high stakes that we are often prepared to wager, in the hope that luck will be a lady.

Verity Hunt-Ballard (Sarah Brown) and Martin Crewes (Sky Masterson)

The open stage space affords for some spectacular dance numbers, including a tap routine and a fast paced dance routine during the game of craps that is both energetic and extremely well received by the audience and testament to Nathan Wright's choreography and the staging decisions made in Shaun Gurton's set design for this concert performance. In a similar vein, the costumes are colourful and striking, providing an unavoidable presence on stage that naturally draws the audience in, making it impossible to look away as the various numbers are performed in grand style. The costume colours often contrast and conflict, which shows an effective way of highlighting the conflicts and diverse backgrounds that make up the story. It is only at the end that a more 'normal', less confronting, costume design is seen. Significantly, this is also the point at which the tensions and conflicts of the story have also been resolved.

If conflict and contradiction are the key to success in a story then Guys and Dolls offers a ready-made triumph. With the underworld set against the religious righteous, and stereotypical male and female roles in constant opposition, there are some wonderful tensions around which the narrative hangs. However one thing that is not in dispute is the supremacy of The Production Company in presenting these concert style versions of musical theatre classics. Jeanne Pratt (Chairwoman of The Production Company) noted after the show that The Production Company was established sixteen years ago to provide opportunities for Australian performers to show their talents. They are to be commended for how they have achieved their goals. Various pricing initiatives encourage the younger generation to sample some theatre classics, while on the stage this company of Guys and Dolls are testament to the theatre talent of Australia. Offering a high quality and splendidly entertaining rendition of a musical theatre classic, this production is well paced, humorous, and presented in a simple and highly effective manner.

Guys and Dolls is showing at the State Theatre between 19 - 27 July. It will deliver a wonderful night of humorous and highly entertaining theatre. That outcome is much more certain than the mere roll of the dice.

DETAILS:
WHEN: 19 July - 27 July
TIMES: Saturday 19 July at 2pm and 7.30pm; Sunday 20 July at 3pm; Wednesday 23 July at 1pm and 7.30pm; Thursday 24 July at 7.30pm; Friday 25 July at 7.30pm; Saturday 26 July at 2pm and 7.30pm; Sunday 27 July at 3pm
WHERE: State Theatre, Arts Centre, Melbourne
BOOKINGS:
The Art Centre - http://artscentremelbourne.com.au/discover/seasons/the-production-company
Ticketmaster - http://www.ticketmaster.com.au/The-Production-Company-tickets/artist/1055725?tm_link=tm_homeA_b_10002_6

IMAGE CREDITS: Provided by Cavanagh PR


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