Music and lyrics Frank Loesser; Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, based on stories by Damon Runyon
Royal Exchange Theatre Company and Talawa Theatre Company
02 December 2017 to 03 February 2018
One of the greatest of all evergreen Broadway musicals, Guys And Dolls hit the stage in 1950, a gem, perfectly polished, and, apart from various re-orchestrations, countless revivals ever since have seen little or no need to muck around with it.
According to Wikipedia there has been just the one major previous professional all-Black cast production, on Broadway, in 1976.
So, this joint staging from Talawa and the Royal Exchange is the first in the UK to use all-Black performers.
It also claims to have moved the show’s location across town a little, from Broadway to Harlem, though, confusingly, the constant references to Broadway in the original have been retained. It also stays in the 1930s period of the original Damon Runyon tales on which the show is based.
The idea of the all-Black casting is, I suppose, to give a new slant on the show and offer opportunities for performers who wouldn’t normally be cast…
For those who don’t know…Luck Be A Lady, I’ve Never Been In Love Before, Guys And Dolls and Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat, are the songs taken out of context that became famous in their own right but the score has much more depth, in its character pieces and comedy numbers, both in terms of music and lyrics. Few musicals have ever meshed on all fronts in the way G&D does.
Set among the gangsters and low lifers of the New York underworld, it is basically two sort-of love stories, one involving fixer about town Nathan Detroit (Ray Fearon) and his cabaret performer perpetual fiancée Miss Adelaide (Lucy Vandi); the other telling of legendary gambler Sky Masterson (Ashley Zhangazha, giving the one stand-out performance of the evening) and his sudden infatuation with Salvation Army campaigner Sister Sarah Brown (Abiona Omonua). All get mixed up in trying to organise and play a crap (rolling dice) game amidst attempts by the law, and Miss Adelaide, to prevent it.
I have seen most major British productions of Guys And Dolls since the first tour of the first West End version in the 1950s but the one I treasure most was from the ’69 Theatre Company, at the Manchester University Theatre (now Contact) in 1972 - the company that, four years later morphed into the Royal Exchange. Zoe Wanamaker and Trevor Peacock from that production are still my ideal Adelaide and Nathan.
But it’s probably best, for the sake of this production here, if you haven’t seen the show at all before because despite everything, gauging from the first night audience reaction, Frank Loesser and Co are still triumphant.
I however don’t know where to start in pointing out the many shortcomings. So, I won’t, there really are too many in every department and I don’t want to undermine the enjoyment you will certainly have in seeing one of the Broadway greats.
Reviewer: Alan Hulme