January 17, 1986

Guys and Dolls

Filed under: Archive,National Times

1986 has begun in fine form with the opening in Adelaide’s Festival Theatre of the Festival Centre Trust’s big lettuce production of Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls. Staged by David Toguri, it is a transplant of the National Theatre of Great Britain production originally directed by Richard Eyre.

It is agreed by one and all that this Guys and Dolls is one of the best ever musicals and I personally for one am not disagreeing that this Frank Loesser is knowing his Runyons. Parties like Nathan Detroit, Harry the Horse, Nicely Nicely Johnson are coming straight from Damon Runyon’s comic motley of New York City crims minding their own in Mindy’s, following the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York and resolutely avoiding the past tense.

There can be few opening numbers as inventive and witty as Loesser’s triple Fugue for Tin Horns and Ricky May as Nicely Nicely is in fine voice and in energetic abundance. The set from John Gunter’s original designs for the National Theatre production is a splendid sight as the lights go up. Detailed, versatile, it assures the entire production with its confident, neon etched facades and intriguing perspectives. The lighting is based on original designs by David Hersey. The music under the direction of David King is crisp, bright and well miked and several of the reed solos in particular are exhilarating.

The producers have assembled a strong cast particularly with Nancye Hayes, who is a triumph as Miss Adelaide. It is every bit the star performance one might expect from such a talent. The stage is hers whenever she appears in costume designer, Sue Blane’s stunning scarlet satin outfits, belting out “Take back your mink” or wistfully singing “Sue Me” with co-star Peter Adams who plays a shrewdly understated Nathan Detroit in a fine performance which neatly counterpoints Nancye Hayes’ commanding presence.

Ricky May in his first theatrical role is surely headed for many more. His rendition of the hot gospel “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” comes close to stopping the show as he demonstrates his considerable talent for working a crowd.

The casting of the tambourine-crossed lovers Sergeant Sarah Brown of the Salvation Army and the gambler and card sharp Sky Masterson is less successful. Angela Ayers as Sarah is too diffident to convince us of the conflict between the sensual and the spiritual that is the comic fulcrum of the role, while Anthony Warlow is more like a singing mountie than a gangster. He is not to be blamed for not being Brando since not even Brando is any more, but his southern drawl is too courtly and his baritone too smooth for us to believe enough in the incongruity of his match with Sarah, and so by the time he is wearing his Salvo duds and beating his drum, the satire about whether a doll can change a guy has all but collapsed.

This is in fact an unresolved element throughout the production. I dislike to say it but I am fatigued with weariness with all the talk about dolls and marriage and would like it well if Sarah and Adelaide could be reading some dolls like Germaine and Simone for a word on this marry-the-man-today malarkey. I do not see why these dolls maybe could not be a smidgen more ironical about minks and men the better to keep the show out of the museum.

Guys and Dolls is certainly a Broadway musical in the grand manner, a colossal venture vindicated. The production will undoubtedly tighten up -as it needs to with some of the dance numbers, and to pace some of the more plodding dialogue, but with the set, the music and the quality of the lead performances. Guys and Dolls has enough dash and scope to deserve to be called a success, alright, already.

The National Times, January 17, 1986, p.32.

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