Book: Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, from Damon Runyon’s short stories
Music and Lyrics: Frank Loesser
Director: Gordon Greenberg
Even the most seasoned gamblers can find themselves playing with high stakes in the game of love – Guys and Dolls is the latest in a season of shows involving swindlers, spies and shysters at Cardiff’s New Theatre this spring/summer.
Based on two short stories written by Damon Runyon in the 1920s and 30s, the plot follows prominent New York gambler Nathan Detroit in his attempt at securing a permanent location for his illegal floating craps racket. He places an irresistible wager with Sky Masterson – that he can’t win a date with strait-laced Sarah Brown; abet which becomes problematic when Sky finds himself falling for Sarah and both ‘Guys’ start to realise all bets are off when it comes to ‘Dolls’.
A mere glance at the programme shows an exciting lead cast line-up with an array of impressive accolades.
Richard Fleeshman is cocky as the king of spades in the role of Sky Masterson; suave and street-wise, with sumptuous, rich vocals, while Maxwell Caulfield brings an air of off-beat patriarchy to the gambling game as gruff, no-nonsense Nathan Detroit.
Anna O’Byrne, in the role of morally righteous Sarah Brown, gives youthful naivety to a girl on the cusp of womanhood, soaring vocally with her melodic soprano. Louise Dearman throws herself entirely into the performance of Miss Adelaide and encapsulates not only a racy humour, but also a dreamy innocence.
However, it is Jack Edwards as Nicely-Nicely Johnson who gets the most rapturous applause of the evening, leading the testimonial tune Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, which is quite the showstopper. The entire ensemble must be commended for their unrelenting energy in this number particularly – the pure joy of performing this scene is palpable.
The choreography, a collaboration by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, is complicated, skilful and energetic and, consequently, fabulous to watch; the cast steps up to the challenge and not a beat is missed, nor a moment lacking. Notable dance sequences are the Havana Cuba scene and dice game dance in the Sewer.
The set, designed by Peter McKintosh, is immediately striking – a colourful archway of advertisement artwork seems to explode outward like shrapnel. There is more to it than simply eye-catching decoration, however. It provides functionality in denoting place, and gives us a starry Manhattan skyline of twinkling bulbs. Another nice little touch is the mission hall; at first appearance, it seems an interestingly distorted façade but on closer inspection reveals itself to be the crest of the Statue of Liberty. These are lovely, clever hidden depths which could be easily overlooked.
As the lights dimmed on the show, Cardiff New Theatre rose unanimously to their feet in a full standing ovation – The London counterpart may be making headlines at the moment,with the arrival of Rebel Wilson as Adelaide, but this touring version is no second-fiddle;this production is slick, full of energy and packed with pizazz and could easily give theWest Endproduction a run for its money.
Runs until 9 July 2016 |Image: Anna O’Byrne