Guys and Dolls

Date 4th May 2024
Society Fareham Musical Society
Venue Station Theatre, Hayling Island
Type of Production Musical
Director Ben Lister
Musical Director Val Tucker
Choreographer Helen Wallis

Report

Author: Mark Donalds

For a show that premiered in the West End over seventy years ago, Guys and Dolls has weathered remarkably well, as testified by the current London revival. We can still relate to the storyline of gamblers coming good and the music is just as fresh and joyful as it ever was, so I took my seat in the comfortable Station Theatre anticipating a great night’s entertainment – I was not disappointed.

Director Ben Lister has sensibly kept the stage clutter free, with projected images on the back wall and just a multi-purpose newsstand on one side. Furniture was brought on and off smoothly by the cast and scenes flowed nicely into each other, slightly overlapping at times, giving the show great pace. Lighting (Ian Pratt) was excellent creating the atmospheres of the different locations perfectly – even down in the sewers – and sound was a model of clarity throughout.

Musical Director Val Tucker (sadly her last show as MD) has tuned up the group’s vocal talents to perfect pitch. Singing, of both chorus and soloists, was spot on with some beautiful harmonies. “Fugue for Tinhorns” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” were particularly well sung. Choreographer Helen Wallis has also worked her magic on the group and managed to use every inch of the small stage. The “Luck Be a Lady” ballet was the most exciting and precisely executed piece of dance I’ve seen in a long time. Stunning. So were the Hot Box girls, each time they were on. Costumes (Marina Voak and Yvonne Lister) throughout were well-considered and looked fantastic – as did the wigs and make-up.

Tristan Redwood was the perfect choice for hardened gambler Sky Masterson, exuding charm and sophistication with a smooth singing voice to match. How could Sarah Brown fail to fall for him? Isabella Parsons however gave Sarah spirit – a passionate idealist and nowhere near as naïve and innocent as she is often portrayed. Her voice melted perfectly with Tristan’s – their scenes were played with convincing chemistry and their duets were sublime. Jonny White is a charismatic performer and really nailed the character of Nathan Detroit – a loveable rogue, a ducker and diver, terrified of commitment. He really brought out the charm and humour and we could see why Adelaide had stuck with him for so long. Lucy Barratt played Adelaide with immense charm: a needy, loving and frustrated nightclub dancer and long-term fiancee: she had the audience in the palm of her hand. She got the voice just right (not too much squeak) and showed her anger at, and love for, Nathan. Her singing was a delight, especially the duet with Sarah: “Marry the Man Today.”

Brian Sweatman and Mark Maclaine were well paired as Nathan’s gophers. Brian made Nicely a good loyal friend, always appearing on stage eating something – a detail I’d forgotten over the years – and Mark made Benny nicely slick and jittery. Their “Guys and Dolls” duet was just right and Nicely’s “Sit Down You’re Rockin the Boat” was a real showstopper. Graeme Clements was great as the constantly outwitted Lt Brannigan and Gareth Billington-Ryan (Harry the Horse) had a wonderful catalogue of facial expressions. Ben Lister (standing in at the last minute for Alan Backhouse on the Saturday performances) gave a warm and touching depiction of Arvide, and his solo “More I Cannot Wish You” was really moving.

This was a high energy show, but the exuberance had well-directed contrasts of emotion and pathos. It looked great and sounded even better. Add to that songs that have endured for over seventy years and still give great pleasure to all who experience them, it’s no wonder the capacity audience were on their feet applauding at the end. So well deserved!

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