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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

GUYS AND DOLLS (article first published : 2007-12-1)

If, after viewing a major production, my notebook only contains a page and a half of squiggles (try writing legibly in the dark!) then it means one of two things. Either the production is irretrievable beyond belief and I have no suggestions for improvement, or else I have simply sat back and enjoyed the journey, merely noting impressions needed for the review.

The former is definitely not the case for Guys and Dolls which opened last night at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre! I thoroughly enjoyed this interpretation of the well-known musical with its youthful verve, cartoon book style and magical music. Based on the story and characters of Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls tells of the romantic entanglements of two women: the flamboyant showgirl Adelaide and her irrepressible Nathan Detroit, and the endearingly innocent Sarah, sergeant of the Save a Soul Mission, who falls for the suave Sky Masterson. They have a common problem: both their men are confirmed gamblers! Poor Adelaide has been engaged to Nathan for 14 years but crap games – not to mention his reluctance to marital commitment - always get in the way of her ultimate dream.

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and taken from the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys and Dolls has some memorable numbers like Luck be a Lady, If I Were a Bell, A Bushel and a Peck, My Time of Day and that’s just to mention a few. Requiring a large cast, all of whom get to shine in some way, it also offers some great dance sequences.

Durbanites get a chance to enjoy this time-honoured musical, courtesy of one of the youngest producers since Pieter Toerien launched his impressive career. Stage-struck since the age of nine, Durban’s Bradley Marshall (19) decided to follow his father’s advice never to give up on dreams when he launched his first production. He wisely chose a top-notch and rock-solid team headed by director Catherine Mace with vocal director Charon Williams-Ros (who plays a delightful General Cartwright); choreographer Mark Hawkins; musical director Callie Thomson; Johannesburg-based designer Sasha Ehlers; costume designer Andrew Verster, and lighting designer Michael Broderick with sound design by Izan Greyling.

Performance honours can be fairly and squarely placed at the feet of Janna Ramos-Violante. Utterly professional and focused to the tips of her elegant fingers, she gives us a magical adenoidal Adelaide full of spunk and humour and Take Back Your Mink was sheer delight. Quincy Fynn is a good foil for her as the embattled Nathan and they have some delightful scenes.

As the gentler and more refined Sarah, Donnagh Roberts has the perfect role for her voice and she was delightful in the Havana scene where she gets tipsy – and not a little pugnacious! An actor to watch is Lyle Buxton who brings to Sky Masterson a credible level of coolness and maturity.

Making up the irrepressible bunch of gangsters are Clive Gumede (who gets to sing the show-stopper Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat), Jacobus van Heerden, Clinton Small, Michael Gritten, Liam Magner, Sans Moonsamy, Adam Doré, Marc Kay and Dylan Edy. With acclaimed and award-winning dancers Sifiso Khumalo, Mlekeleli Khuzwayo, Magesh Sfiso Ngcobo and Quinton Ribbonaar in the line-up, some nifty footwork can be expected. However, my eyes were truly opened by the standard of movement presented by many of the other male actors who have obviously worked extremely hard on the choreography. Hard work pays off and the results speak for themselves!

Ricky MacGregor was a sympathetic Arvide Abernathy supported by the rest of the mission band with humorous performances from Judith Hawthorn, Krystle Temmerman and Mary van Zyl. Iain Ewok Robinson was a suitably crabby Lt Brannigan. In addition to the “Hot Box” dancers Denya Maslen, Londiwe Dhlomo, Janine Bennewith, Tarryn Lee Hudson and Pamela Grey, the cast includes Libby Allen and Toni D’Amant.

Catherine Mace has drawn excellent performances from her cast. Andrew Verster’s brief was “comic book-style” and the resulting costumes are – as Catherine describes in the programme notes “unconventional, sassy, bodacious”. The purists may have a few problems with an imbalance in period style and some scenes are under-lit. I also had a problem with the use of the side doors for some of the fun interactions between Brannigan and Society Max as they excluded those seated in the lower half of the auditorium. These would have been better played from the lower side doors. However, these are technicalities and in the end Guys and Dolls is a highly entertaining and enjoyable production.

Presented by BGM Productions, by arrangement with Dalro, Guys and Dolls runs at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre to January 6, 2008. Tickets R110 (R80 at matinee performances only for pensioners and children under 12). Tickets R250 for a special performance on December 31 with snacks and champagne to welcome in the New Year. Booking is at Computicket. – Caroline Smart




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