BWW Review: GUYS AND DOLLS, Crucible, Sheffield
The Christmas musical at Sheffield's Crucible has become one of the highlights of the regional theatre year over the past decade, with shows including Me and My Girl, My Fair Lady, Anything Goes, and last year's Kiss Me, Kate delighting audiences. This year, Artistic Director Robert Hastie brings us his take on Guys and Dolls.
The musical is set in the underbelly of inner-city New York where gamblers are trying to set up craps games and evade the prying eyes of the law, and Salvation Army missionaries are seeking sinners to save. It's a fun romp with themes of love, law and morality, although it never delves too deeply into the psyche of the characters.
At the heart of the show are two key couplings: long-engaged but never-wed Nathan Detroit (Martin Marquez) and Miss Adelaide (Natalie Casey); and the suave Sky Masterson (Kadiff Kirwan) who sets about wooing Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown (Alex Young, a Crucible musical favourite) as part of a bet with Nathan. There is nice chemistry between each pairing, most clearly evidenced in Sarah and Sky's duet "I've Never Been in Love Before".
The real draw for this musical is, of course, the big numbers. Matt Flint's choreography works well here with some extended dance sequences that are as much a part of the scene-setting and narrative as the songs and dialogue (although one or two were a little long). Some of the most thrilling set-pieces are the all-male routines centred around the craps games, where ideas of machismo and bravado are played with and we can see some of the vulnerabilities beneath the bluff and bluster.
The two songs that most wowed the audience were polar opposites in terms of scale. "Adelaide's Lament" is a one-woman tour-de-force where Casey expertly blends comedy, bathos and deep sadness. Its focus is small and its delivery powerful. Conversely, "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" is a grand ensemble number, led by TJ Lloyd's Nicely Nicely Johnson. As the lyrics escalate, so does the performance, with a staid Salvation Army meeting transformed into a rocking gospel show that had the crowd whooping.
Casey's Adelaide is the real heart of the show - it's a gem of a role and she plays it to perfection - but Alex Young turns in another reliably emotional performance as Sarah, even if the character is not as well-written as Adelaide. Both, along with Lloyd, are the strongest vocalists of the show. Kirwan and Marquez's singing doesn't quite reach the same heights of the other three - though they more than make up for this in charisma and characterisation.
The whole cast is energetic and the ensemble is just the right size to give a feel of scale without overwhelming the stage. One or two of the supporting roles are played a little one-note - though that is as much a feature of the show itself as this interpretation.
Janet Bird's set design is a real highlight. A series of revolving and interlocking panels transition seamlessly through our various locations, and the style evokes not only the bustling backstreets of New York but has echoes of the brutalist architecture of Sheffield's own Park Hill estate (celebrated in the same theatre earlier this year in the fantastic Standing at the Sky's Edge).
As gamblers, performers and Salvation Army missionaries bustle about on the stage, the orchestra is placed in domestic dwellings above them. This allows for some real creativity with the sound, emulating the bustle of New York with activity coming from all heights and angles.
It's a lengthy show (almost three hours including interval), although it flies by - just make sure you're suitably refreshed before it starts!
It's perhaps not as innovative as some of the musicals staged in this space, but it is a joyous hug of a show, and on a cold, wet Sheffield evening when everyone was anxiously awaiting the election results, this was the perfect winter warmer.
Guys and Dolls is at the Crucible, Sheffield, until 18 January, 2020
Photo by Johan Persson.