Frank Loesser’s 1950 musical, ‘Guys and Dolls’, dates not a day in this charming production by SEDOS, the thespian arm of the Stock Exchange (I kid you not). In addition to offering at least five numbers which have entered the Great American Songbook, it boasts a book, based on the short stories of Broadway low-life by Damon Runyan, as witty and flavoursome as any in the musical canon.
At the core of the story are two couples. Chorus girl Adelaide has been engaged to Nathan Detroit for twelve years, only every time they are set to wed, Nathan slips out of it either to organise or play in a craps game. Now Nathan needs a venue for his latest, but the police are watching and he needs a Gee in advance to secure the cellar. He proposes to get it by leading his inveterate gambling chum Sky Masterson into a bet that Nathan cannot lose: that he will succeed in taking Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown to the louche hotspot of Havana. This sets up the parallel trials and tribulations of the two couples, before the dolls agree to accept the guys for what they are – at least till after the wedding.
It’s one of the first musicals to centre on the lower orders, and also one of the first to be driven entirely by character and situation. As such it seems far more integrated, and less corny, than the contemporary Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals usually credited with inventing integration in the Broadway show.
And what characters they are! There is a great deal of affection and sympathy for these ne’er-do-wells who just occasionally find themselves doing good in spite of themselves. Burrows’ book preserves the rich mixture of street slang and formality which became known as Runyonesque, sometimes rising to surreal heights. Adelaide sighs, “I want a real home, with wallpaper and bookends.” For all their street-wise hustle, there is a fundamental innocence about them.
Director Chloe Faine has stripped the stage right back, creating a glossy dancing surface almost as large as the original Bridewell swimming pool. On this a chorus of over twenty dance stylishly and with great energy. It cannot be said however that the principals all have the measure of these affectionate caricatures. The rhythm of the dialogue sometimes eludes them, so jokes are lost. Both Phillip Doyle as Sky and Natasha Cowley as Sarah could do with a stronger cutting edge, though Sarah’s drunk scene is handled well enough. John Bainton as Nicely-Nicely Johnson is a little subdued, but delivers in spades when it comes to singing, rightly earning an ovation for the show-stopper “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”. But it’s left to Gayle Bryans to get the full measure of the show in what perhaps is the richest part for an actor, Miss Adelaide. Gifted with a voice that could cut through tungsten and a fine sense of comedy, she wins hearts even as you want to slap her for being so stupid.
The cast is supported by an excellent 12-piece band. This may be an amateur production, but there is little amateur about the delivery, and lovers of musicals are assured of a good night out. Runs till 15th December.