Set in Damon Runyon's mythical New York City, this oddball romantic comedy - considered by many to be the perfect musical comedy - soars with the spirit of Broadway as it introduces us to a cast of vivid characters who have become legends in the canon: Sarah Brown, the upright but uptight mission doll, out to reform the evildoers of Time Square; Sky Masterson, the slick, high-rolling gambler who woos her on a bet and ends up falling in love; Adelaide, the chronically ill nightclub performer whose condition is brought on by the fact she's been engaged to the same man for 14 years; and Nathan Detroit, her devoted fiance, desperate as always to find a spot for his infamous floating crap game.
First performed at the Criterion in 1973.
GUYS and Dolls, Criterion Theatre, Earlsdon, Coventry, until Saturday. Running time 2 hours 45 mins.
The wow factor comes more in the second half of this hugely ambitious production by a 33-strong cast at the tiny Criterion Theatre.
With characters inspired by Damon Runyon and a score by Frank Loesser, the mechanics of this 60-year-old saga are as funny as they ever were. After all, just what does a high-rolling professional gambler have in common with a Salvation Army mission girl?
The answer's easy. He travels the country spending most of his time staying in hotel rooms where there's nothing to read. Except the Bible.
As hero Sky Masterson, Gareth Withers's voice gets stronger as the show progresses and he's on fire by the time he gets to Luck Be A Lady.
The same gradual built up comes from Nicol Cortese, who plays the Oh so correct, Miss Sarah Brown. Both she and Gareth can sometimes stray off key but she's wonderful when she gets drunk in the Havana scene and totters about singing If I Was A Bell...
Then there's all those other songs: Fugue for Tin Horns – not the best version I've heard – I'll know When My Love Comes Along, Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat and Take Back Your Mink – this last one an cast sensation complete with basques and suspenders.
The humour never stops. And much of it comes from from the New York slang of Miss Adelaide, delightfully played by Jan Nightingale, who has all the really great lines...
She's the Hot Box dancer who's wasted so much time waiting around for Nathan Detroit to get round to marrying her that's she's developed a whole litany of psychological ailments...including a 14-year-long cold.
I liked Matt Sweatman's Nathan and his duets with Adelaide worked really well – particularly the heartfelt Sue Me. I thought John Fenner worked well as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and it was great to hear Keith Railton, of all actors, tackling a sentimental solo in his elder statesman role of Arvide.
But song of the night for me has to be Luck Be A Lady with Gareth backed by this strong male chorus.
As my all time favourite musical this is a hard show to stage and the first act was slow to ignite. But after the break the whole thing zings along and is a triumph for all all at the Criterion.
Verdict: You'll be lucky to get a seat – this is already a virtual sell-out.
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