REVIEW: Guys and Dolls, Newcastle Theatre Royal
My bet is that Guys and Dolls, at Newcastle's Theatre Royal until April 2, will split opinion.
For die-hard fans of the musical that first appeared on Broadway in 1950, it's a stunning revival, full of panache and vibrancy, dazzling dance numbers, superbly choreographed, amazing singing and a deal of fun.
First timers, more used to the all-action jukebox musicals of modern times, might wonder what all the fuss is about. The jokes were cheesy and dated, the songs were good but never showstoppers and the pace pedestrian at times.
There was no faulting the cast, who were immense throughout, with some outstanding performances that justify splashing out on the tickets, but there was something missing. The audience never really raised the roof - even the big number towards the end, Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, did not get the cheers and standing ovation the collective effort of all those on stage probably deserved.
I put it down to the passage of time, some American in-jokes and the somewhat tired dialogue.
We were transported to the lively, dangerous streets of New York in the fifties, where Nathan Detroit (played convincingly by Maxwell Caulfield) is in the process of setting up another crap (dice) game, but is struggling to find a venue away from the prying eyes of the cops – and his disapproving fiancee of 14 years Miss Adelaide (the excellent Louise Dearman).
Sarah Brown (amazing Anna O’Byrne) is a straight-laced Salvationist from the Save Our Soul Mission who is determined to rid the city of evil, alcohol and gambling, until she meets Sky Masterson (take a huge bow, Richard Fleeshman, formerly of Corrie fame). He accepts and wins a bet to woo Ms Brown and sweep her off to Havana.
The four principals were rocks of the show. Fleeshman proved that Coronation Street, where he played Craig Harris 10 years ago, was a mere springboard for bigger and far better things. He was cocky, arrogant and annoyingly handsome as the gambling king Sky - and that voice, wow! His version of Luck Be a Lady was full of colour, depth and emotion. A superb rendition.
He was matched by songbird O'Byrne, whose operatic tones were perfect for the religious side of Sarah Brown. Then it was some transformation to Havana vamp, aided by a wee bit of bacardi - her voice became raspy and full of attitude and her demeanour confident and sassy.
Dearman shone as the frustrated nearly-lover of Caulfield's Detroit. Her perfect diction and comic timing made the rapid-fire song Adelaide's Lament one of the highlights of the night. The chemistry between Dearman and Caulfield was a joy to witness.
The supporting cast gave their all and impressed, none more so than Jack Edwards, whose Nicely-Nicely Johnson was jolly throughout and his Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat hit the spot for me. The guys, in general, were particularly enjoyable to watch - their tight harmonies and energy in the beautifully choreographed opening number Fugue for Tinhorns set the bar as high as the New York skyscrapers for the rest of the show.
The hugely impressive scenery, with flashing advertising hoardings reflecting off the stage to create an amazing tunnel of light and colour, lifted the whole musical. I also have to commend the orchestra. They often go unmentioned but the music was such a big part of this production and the sounds coming out of the trumpets, in particular, was divine!
On balance, I would take a punt on Guys and Dolls, but be prepared for a lot of dialogue, a couple of over-long scenes and a very corny ending. It's heart-warming stuff that at least cheered a chilly March evening.
Guys and Dolls runs at the Theatre Royal until Saturday, April 2. Tickets are still available and can be booked online.