Does anyone read Damon Runyon these days? If not, it’s probably because he seems rather dated on the page. Musical theatre is more tolerant of time-warps, and at least his work lives on in Guys and Dolls: it is based on Runyon’s characters and stories, and is by any standards one of the great American musicals. It is set among the gamblers and hustlers of Manhattan, one of whom, Nathan Detroit, is desperate to find somewhere to stage his floating crap game – and to avoid the attentions of Miss Adelaide, his fiancée of fourteen years. Meanwhile, Sarah Brown of the Save-a-Soul Mission, who is trying to spread the Word, attracts the attention of Sky Masterson, initially as the subject of a bet. Then he finds that he is falling in love with her….
Great musical it may be, but it is not at all an easy one for an amateur group to stage. To bring it off well, as P&P do, demands a huge amount of both inspiration and perspiration, and at the head of the queue for praise for the success of the production should be the director, Claire Camble-Hutchins. She has ensured that the piece zips along, and has also provided a great deal of very imaginative choreography, performed by a core of talented and well-rehearsed dancers. The scenes in the Hotbox night-club and in the Havana restaurant remain in the memory – in fact the whole Cuban sequence towards the end of act 1 is outstanding. And if you think choreography is just about dancing, the moves to ‘Sit down, you’re rocking the boat’ must have taken hour upon hour of rehearsal.
The direction is helped by a clever and attractive set, with sliding flats providing great flexibility. The lighting deserves praise, too, again particularly during the Cuba section. The music is in the sure hands of Adam Tuffrey and the ensemble singing does him credit. Good harmony singing in the opening scene with ‘Fugue for tinhorns’ and ‘The oldest established’ is continued throughout the show. The only criticism on the musical front is that the tone of the orchestra – keyboards, reeds, brass and percussion – is at times a little brash.
Adrian Lane is very comfortable in the role of Sky and his confidence dominates the stage when he is on. It is hard to believe that Sarah is a first principal role at P&P for Katherine Steele: she is already an accomplished actress, subtly conveying Sarah’s changes of mood as she reacts to events around her. Both these principals are good, natural singers, which could be seen as damning with faint praise, but it is refreshing to hear two voices which have not been over-polished and which as a result blend so well together.
Miss Adelaide is a big character in every way and Libby Russell makes the most of her –again, it is surprising to read that this is her first principal role. She contrasts well with a rather wimpy Nathan, played by Dean Rawson. He is a frustrated, angry character, but on the first night almost every line was delivered at a shout, which, given Lighthouse’s excellent sound system, became a bit wearing.
The minor characters rather merge into each other (except Pete Gutteridge as Big Jule for his height and Syd Young as Arvide for a lovely act 2 solo), but that is not inappropriate as this is above all an ensemble piece and everyone involved contributes to its undoubted success. Go out of your way to catch a performance: 3-5 May at 7.30 with a 2.30 matinée on 5 May.