DAMON Runyan’s swirling, sleazy view of Prohibition New York, as encapsulated in his short stories Blood Pressure and The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, inspired one of the great classics of musical theatre, Guys and Dolls.
The Frank Loesser show has continued to excite directors, actors, singers, dancers and audiences since it first appeared in 1950. The cast numbers are flexible, the music memorable and the characters colourful, so it has become a staple for school productions, providing a challenging but fun show not only for performers and musicians but a huge backstage team.
Gillingham School has built up a reputation for the excellence of its musicals, and it did Guys and Dolls proud.
From the first notes, the 23-strong band, under the direction of Liam Carey, belted out the dirty brass, the tuneful love songs and the marching tunes with pzazz and assurance, leading into a terrific production.
Director Jane McCarthy had once again used a stage extension that brought the action into the auditorium, with groups of rubber-necking tourists, scuttling hooch peddlars, anxious gangsters and their molls, mission bands and other hopefuls dashing around Broadway and its neighbouring streets.
Nathan Detroit is the one with the blood pressure, on account of his inability to find somewhere to hold his perennial crap game, and his fiancee’s final demand for a wedding.
Miss Sarah Brown is the leader of a hopeless mission for saving lost souls, but these are souls with no desire to be saved.
In comes high roller Sky Masterson to link the stories, proving that you can’t outguess the gods, and Cupid is among their most irresistible.
Almost all the members of the huge cast managed consistent and credible American accents, and if there were problems with the sound on the first night and the male chorus needed more oomph, they are minor problems compared with the overall effect of the production, which extended into the American style canteen in the interval.
This is a show where everyone does his or her bit, but inevitably there are star performances.
In more than a dozen productions I have seen in recent years, I’ve never seen the story of Sarah and Sky done more poignantly and electrically than by Colicia Summers and Philip White. Their performances were so much more than all-singing leads in a musical.
Oscar Dethick’s gangly, attractive Nathan was also a world away from the usual tubby hustler, and Emily Heenan managed real pathos in Miss Adelaide’s Lament.
It was fun to have Big Jule (always pronounced Julie) played by a diminutive girl (Grace MacDonald).
The Hot Box Girls shone in Take Back Your Mink, and there were some excellent details in among the big ensemble numbers.
It’s a great show, and another feather in the full cap of the Gillingham team.
Footnote. Maybe a slightly lighter hand with the beardy make-up – this was certainly ten o’clock shadow rather than stubble!