Sixty-five years old and still going strong, Guys and Dolls at Liverpool’s Empire theatre is hardly a song and dance about nothing.
Rather, it’s an age-old story of lovers from different cultures. Sky Masterson (Richard Fleeshman) is an incorrigible gambler who falls for the saintly Sarah Brown (Anna O’Byrne) of the Salvation Army following a bet that he can’t take her to Havana for the dinner. Meanwhile, Nathan Detroit (Maxwell Caulfield – remember him draped around Joan Collins in The Colbys?) runs the local crap games and is in need of a venue, which presents itself in the form of the very Mission that Sarah has vacated for cocktails in Cuba. He has been stringing his fiancée, Miss Adelaide (Louise Dearman), along for 14 years and she’s keen to tie the knot. Ultimately all our protagonists must compromise their lifestyles and ideals to earn their happy ever-after.
The juxtaposition of virtue and vice should probably create more tension and more comedy here than it actually does. The sainted Sarah gets tipsy in Havana but this is portrayed neither convincingly nor with the slapstick with which it might have been done. However, Liverpool is this production’s first stop so the cast are still settling in to their roles and there’s every chance they’ll pick up the pace.
And if the choreography is, in parts, curiously lacklustre, being almost too true to the original for a 21st Century audience, the exception to this is the scene in the gambling den where the orchestra plays Luck Be A Lady and the shady underworld of crap shooting is cleverly contrived with an adroit use of lighting to create striations and shadows. The dancers sinuously undulate and spring across the dappled stage like rodents in a sewer.
Richard Fleeshman got a standing ovation, admittedly from his mum, actress Sue Jenkins, who was in the audience, but he did display pleasingly smoky vocals. However, the female leads were stronger, sassier and more polished than their male counterparts. Anna O’Byrne played Sergeant Sarah with almost operatic tones, which befits the character’s puritanical bent.
In contrast to this, Louise Dearman’s Nu Yoiky vowels, both brassy and vulnerable, located Miss Adelaide firmly in the Hot Box cabaret where she belongs. Jack Edwards’ Nicely-Nicely Johnson did very nicely in his spotlight moment too. I wanted to love Maxwell Caulfield; I wanted to hate Maxwell Caulfield. But his performance left little impression so I guess it was competent.
The set deserves a word. Simple, minimalist and effective, the backdrop depicts advertising hoardings that double as New York skyscrapers and are reminiscent of the Statue of Liberty’s diadem.
Ultimately, it’s a musical of two halves. The first half seems to take a long time to achieve very little, whilst the second half gallops delightfully towards the finale. Of course, the better known songs are after the interval and perhaps the cast has warmed up by then but the ensemble piece Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat was a stompingly good, gospel-infused joy.
Guys and Dolls,
Liverpool Empire Theatre
March 16 – March 19, 2016
Sky Masterson – Richard Fleeshman
Nathan Detroit – Maxwell Caulfield
Miss Adelaide – Louise Dearman
Sarah Brown – Anna O’Byrne
PR Rating: *** Still Going Strong