FRANK Loesser’s Guys and Dolls is not only his masterpiece, in a career that was full of clever and witty work, it is also one of the greatest musicals ever. It is entirely of its time – thanks to the brilliance of Damon Runyon’s tales of New York in the 1920s and 30s – yet it manages to never seem dated.
This timeless quality, captured so well in this energetic and hugely enjoyable Bath Operatic and Dramatic Society production, is due to the absolute authenticity of the characters and the way it skewers the relationships between the “guys” and the “dolls.|”
Like Lionel Bart’s Oliver!, it is a show in which virtually every song is a hit in its own right, and like Bernstein’s West Side Story, it requires a cast that can sing at a level that, for one or two principals, makes almost operatic demands.
This may account for the fact that it is so rarely done by amateur groups – and all the more credit to the BODS cast, director Steve Blackmore, musical director James Finbow and choregrapher Annette Wilsher for creating a show that never felt less than professional at every level.
There were many great touches – little vignettes like the blind man in the opening overture/dance scene who we soon realise is a skilled (seeing) pickpocket, the little plane that takes Sky and Sarah to Havana, or the hilarious camp of Big Jule (Dave Key-Pugh), the fearsome gangster-gambler from Chicago.
But at its heart this is the story of two couples and the Runyonland crap-shooters, led by Nicely Nicely (a scene-stealing George Miles).
Miss Adelaide, the long-suffering fiancee, is one of the greatest female roles in musicals – it needs a performer who is a terrific actress, capable of being very funny and wringing your heart, a singer with a huge range and a good dancer. Jane Knowles had it all – her Nathan Detroit is a lucky man, and Grant McCotter nails the character of the commitment-phobic, luckless gambler whose floating crap-game ends up in the sewers.
Sarah Brown, the charismatic young woman who is leading the Save-A-Soul Mission, is a daunting challenge for a singer, full of frightening high notes, but also as an acting role offers a real journey, from buttoned-up missionary to love-struck “mission doll.” The very experienced Charlotte Hunter was tested with this demanding part, and triumphed in it.
Her get-me-out-of-the-mission card is the gambler Sky Masterson, here played by the versatile Finn Tickel (who you may occasionally see busking around Bath), who has both considerable stage presence and charisma, and can really sing. The pair had real on-stage chemistry.
The show runs to Saturday 13th May – I’d give you 35 to 1 that you’re gonna love this show! FC
Photographs by Emil and Jonathan Boczek