Guys and Dolls, Glastonbury and Street Musical Comedy Society, Strode Theatre, Street

SURELY Guys and Dolls is one of those musicals that will always be on stage somewhere, and with so many Great American Songbook entries, it will never fade from the national and local repertoire.
The subjects of gangsters, religion, love and gambling are almost universal, and there are goodies and baddies galore. GSMCS never fail to produce work of a near, and in some cases better than, professional standard. Their Oliver, which I saw a couple of years ago, rivalled any of the professional versions I have seen, and I was thrilled to be asked to see what they could bring to Guys and Dolls.

I was not disappointed. Not only does this society bring well-known and familiar work to the local stage, they do it with style, panache, and that extra something that I think comes from so many people working together towards a common aim – an aim of giving complete entertainment on every level and from every single part of the production.  Every member of this company has great talent, all able to move, sing and act to a high standard, and although the choreography appears simple, I am sure that is down to the talent on and off the stage, and a lot of hard work. There are three long sequences of movement to music in this show, with most of the overture choreographed, a full-length dance-only version of Luck Be a Lady to open the second act, with all men – even to find so many talented male, amateur dancers on one stage is rare these days – and a final movement sequence just before the ending which I have often found a bit sudden in previous productions of Guys and Dolls, but which tonight all made sense, possibly because of the great acting and movement in that piece.

Having said how good everybody is in this show, I must mention the two main couples. Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide, gangster and showgirl, are played with wonderful comic timing and character acting/singing by Paul Parsons and Jess Stradling, both staying just the right side of moving into caricature, and each with their own separate development.  Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown, gangster and mission girl, are played with strong sensitivity and pathos by Dean Wilson and Eronwy Selwyn. In their publicity photographs they look as though they could be father and daughter, but on stage, in costume and make-up, with such detailed and well-observed acting, and each with strong singing voices, Wilson’s lyrical baritone and Selwyn’s beautifully accurate soprano, they seem made for each other, and their love is completely believable.

In supporting roles, Liam Frampton as Nicely Nicely is a great comedian, works well with Benny, played by Joe Houlihan, especially in the title song, and leads the outstanding set piece that fills the stage with Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat. This number alone must have taken hours to perfect, and perfect it was, with movement, singing, comedy and dance, from almost the whole company. Matt Taylor makes the most of his physical presence as Big Jule, Bruce Bourquin is a convincingly frustrated Lieutenant Brannigan and Rob Trayhurn as Arvide shows his soft, lyrical voice off to great effect in More I Cannot Wish You.

The band, under Kathryn Stevens, are slick, tight, and completely together, making the most of the musical numbers which have no singing, but also accompanying with great sensitivity and balance, and some beautiful trombone, trumpet, saxophone and string work. The two choreographers, Hannah and Claire Switzer, must take credit for such detailed movement, especially the reprise of the opening sequence towards the end, rounding off the story in a better way than I have seen before, and director Paul Townsend must be very proud of his work with this incredibly resourceful and talented society.

If I have run out of superlatives during this review and used any more than once, I apologise, and my only negative comment is about the audience – I hope the remaining audiences are quicker to jump to their feet than we were tonight, to give this show the standing ovation it thoroughly deserves.


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