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Winter 2019Guys and Dolls leaves audience wanting more

Often described as a template for the modern musical, Guys and Dolls is about to turn 70 years old and is an audience favourite with young and old alike.

Judging by the audience reaction at the Curtain Theatre, this musical shows no sign of waning in popularity as Whitworth AMDS sang and danced their way through fourteen songs that feel as familiar as the characters portraying them.

Set-in post-war New York city, this evergreen tale is a hybrid of Damon Runyon’s stories of colourful street characters, their strip bar working girlfriends and the local Salvation Army group who would have them change their wicked ways.

Andy Kelly’s production in October stuck closely to the original style and source material and yet managed to deliver a modern production of lighting, sound and orchestration that would be fitting in any professional theatre in Manchester or London.

The production has a total run time of almost three hours, but never did I once feel bored or clock watch. This was largely down to the performance of the leading actors. Terry Banham as Nathan Detroit, Liam Dodd as Sky Masterson and Elliot O’ Brart as Nicely Nicely Johnson stood out in a cast of performers that would have complemented any ensemble production in amateur theatre. Banham’s comedy, Dodd’s chocolatey singing voice and O’Brart’s comedy characterisation all contributed to an ensemble cast that quite frankly had no weak links.

Also worthy of note was Megan Wight as Sarah Brown who has one of those rare soprano voices that soared and chimed through her songs with disguised ease that matched both her characterisation and delivery. It is very easy to get this character wrong in this show and forget to point out when it is performed well. And well it was done here.

In fact, the depth of characters is what made this show work – the Mission members, minor hoodlums, street cops and working girls all contributed to an ensemble production that culminated in the show stopping “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” in Act Two. I counted 30 cast members clapping and singing through a rendition that somehow manged to be traditional and new at the same time (an additional vocal section, I think) and left me frustrated that there was no encore.

A special mention needs to go to Mike Law as Arvide Abernathy (Sarah’s grandfather and leader of the Save a Soul Mission). His wise Irish characterisation and measured delivery provided a perfect counter point to the brash street hustlers, and I’m pretty sure there were a few audience tears being wiped away at the close of his solo number, “More I Cannot Wish You”.

On the night I came, there were a few clunky scene changes and a couple of fluffed lines that broke up the flow of the otherwise slick dialogue, but this is nit picking in the grander scheme of things. The staging could have been more imaginative to tell the truth, with a simple open set being garnished with some basic props and lit signage, but I’m guessing this was to accommodate such a big cast on a small stage.

On that note, it is so refreshing to see so many strong male performers in an Am Dram cast. The sound they made during “Luck be a Lady” and “Oldest Established” made the hairs on your arms stand up. But do not let this overshadow the female chorus which was brilliantly coordinated by society choreographer Julie Milligan.

A beautiful line up of ‘Hotbox’ girls sang and hoofed through the shows two digetic numbers ably led by Annabelle Taylor in the role of Adelaide – Nathan’s long suffering fiancé.

With a slick band (led by musical director Matt Corrigan) and its colourful period costumes, Guys and Dolls left the audience whistling the title song all the way home.

With Return to the Forbiddden Planet and The Producers on the cards for WAMDS in 2020, you should book early to see this company next year if this production is anything to go by.