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Guys and Dolls - Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Louise Winter on 16th Jun 2016 | View all blogs by Louise Winter

Reviewed 14h June 2016

Guys and Dolls Johann Persson

image credit Johan Persson 

This Chichester Theatre revival of Guys and Dolls is in MK until Saturday 18th June following an extended West End run and wide critical acclaimOriginally performed in 1950 on Broadway, the portrayal of Prohibition-era New York has proved consistently popular over the years. Damon Runyon’s tales of the more colourful characters of the time – the gamblers, hustlers and nightclub performers – are the inspiration for the story. Some of the best-known show tunes ever - Luck be a Lady, Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boatdirection by Gordon Greenberg and choreography by Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright, means this should be a top show and a great audience experience, yet my impression last night was that this show must be quite different from the West End one that garnered all those incredible reviewsoverall it was enjoyable but felt rather lacklustre 

Nathan Detroit (Maxwell Caulfield)in desperate need of a thousand dollars to pay for an overnight illegal gambling venue, persuades hot-shot gambler Sky Masterson (Richard Fleeshman) to take him on in a wager – the seemingly impossible task of getting straight-laced missionary Sergeant Sarah Brown (Anna O’Byrne) of the Save-a-Soul mission down to Havana for dinner. In the meantime Nathan is trying to secure a venue, avoid Lieutenant Brannigan and deal with his long-suffering fiancé Miss Adelaide (Louise Dearman) who is frustrated by their 14 year engagementwants him to name a date and specifically to ‘go straight’. The complications that ensue provide much of the humour.  

Guys and Dolls Johan Persson
image credit Johan Persson 
Caulfield is vastly experienced on stage and on both small and big screens and should fit the role – he looks right as the low level hustler but often seemed tired in both action and delivery. Fleeshman also looks right - super-cool and while demonstrating some elements of the charming, wise-cracking character of Skythere was a lack of consistency last nightO’Byrne (Sarah Brown), perhaps not the strongest actress or singer, doesn’t seem to have found her feet with the character. It is Dearman who is the outstanding performer - commits to each moment on stage, has the strongest voiceplays to the audience, pitches Adelaide perfectly between sassy, sweet and vulnerable, and has superlative comic timing. She left the other leads in the shadows when she was on stage and her performances of Take Back You Mink and Adelaide’s Lament were extremely funny.
Guys and Dolls Johan Persson
image credit Johan Persson
Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Jack Edwards) and sidekick Benny Southstreet (Mark Sangster) were both played with panache and energy and give much of the humour. A sharp, strong and very energetic ensemble were superb really adding to the action and making the most of the choreography and set pieces. Staging is effective with seamless prop changes to depict the Mission, the Hot Box, the club in Havana. A backdrop of advertising signage from the era – Lucky Strike, Coca Cola – serves in most scenes and is lit in various ways.   
Guys and Dolls is not a modern musical, in that it packed full of dialogue - the sharp wordplay of Runyon’s original prose, developed in the Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows book and transformed into Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics are key to enjoyment and need to be transparently clear to pick up on the pace and wit. Perhaps something technically was amiss with the sound last night. From the stalls it seemed that the only source was from the performers’ head mics and from conversation with those in the circle this also seemed so – just not powerful enough, difficult to hear at times especially when performers were turned away from the audience, with lyrics occasionally drowned out by the brilliant orchestra directed by Andy Massey
All the elements are present for a really superb show but last night perhaps there seemed some lack of enthusiasm from some.    
Performances: Tue 14 – Sat 18 Jun 
Box Office: 0844 871 7652 (bkg fee) online booking. (bkg fee)


1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 1 year ago
    Thanks, Louise. This is a classic piece and, as you rightly point out, it takes a fantastic delivery from the principals to get it just right. Great review.
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