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Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Stratford's Guys and Dolls: Starts with a bang and never stops

theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Centre: Evan Buling as Sky Masterson, with members of the company.
Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann

Guys and Dolls: A Musical Fable of Broadway 

based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser; Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore, with music direction by Laura Burton
Designed by Michael Gianfrancesco (set), Dana Osbourne (costumes), Michael Walton (lighting), Peter McBoyle (sound), John Stead (fights)
Featuring Sean Arbuckle, Evan Buling, Alexis Gordon and Blythe Wilson

The hardest reviews to write are the ones for which you can only write positive things. This makes for a boring review (or an overly effusive one), and this production of Guys and Dolls is anything but boring. It is a show shot from a cannon that lands neatly on pointe in all respects.

The pacing of the production is incredible. One barely has time to catch a breath between rounds of applause before the next number / scene / laugh is upon us.  And everything else is nearly perfect:  the lighting is subtle except when it wants to be (nice scene change in Havana, Mr. Walton), the music is bang on, the choreography is awe-inspiring (those chorus men can fly) and the performances are stellar.

Very often in this show there are scenes, moments and duets shared by characters who wouldn’t normally interact, and Ms. Feore uses these to build a heart into the play that might be absent with less able directors.  Indeed, Ms. Feore can bring heart out in a show like no other musical director. Like how food keeps appearing from Nicely’s pockets in complete frustration to increasingly desperate Sky. Or how Big Jule is suddenly smitten with the diminutive Salvation Army officer Agatha.  Or the comradery that Adelaide and Sarah find in discussing their prospective husbands – the duet does not have to play out like a couple of sisters bonding over man-trouble, but in this production it does and you get the sense that both women will benefit from the friendship of the other – no matter how different their backgrounds. It works so very well at every turn.
theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Alexis Gordon as Sarah Brown and Evan Buling as Sky Masterson.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Evan Buling and Alexis Gordon as Sky Masterson and Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown create the most chemistry seen between an onstage couple in Stratford for years.  And while Ms. Gordon is known for her musical prowess she demonstrated a range yet unseen here, from operatic to sultry, and was yet vocally matched by Buling, best known on our stages as an actor first.  Ms. Feore’s use of classically trained actors in musical leads is well known and she proves once again it is a smart choice – Mr. Buling and Ms. Gordon’s pairing was surprising but pays out in spades.

theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Sean Arbuckle as Nathan Detroit and Blythe
Wilson as Adelaide. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The other pairing of Sean Arbuckle and Blythe Wilson as Nathan Detroit and Adelaide is a match made in comedy heaven. A 14-year veteran of the State of Fiancee, Adelaide's main goal is to get Nathan to the altar and away from his crap games; Nathan's main goal is to find a location for the crap game and stay on the good side of all his gambling cronies.  Never the twain shall meet, one is apt to think but Ms. Wilson gives her Adelaide such bouncy, ebullient, determination that Sean Arbuckle's stressed-out, love-sick Nathan never stands a chance. Ms. Wilson's Adelaide's Lament is gold, but a dollar will give you ten it's their duet Sue Me that will stay with you.

theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Members of the Guys and Dolls company. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
There is another pairing that often gets overlooked because it isn’t a romantic one, and this is a romantic musical comedy.  The buddies Nicely Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet share many scenes and numbers together, and inhabiting these roles are Steve Ross and Mark Urhe. From the get-go with Fugue for the Tinhorns (aka I Got the Horse Right Here, or Can Do), in this case shared by Marcus Nance as Rusty Charlie, through The Oldest Established and the near-show-stopper Guys and Dolls, these two song-and-dance men deliver the goods. Steve Ross gets an extra chance to shine – and does he ever, almost stopping the show for the third time – with Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat, but Mark Uhre’s adorkable performance as Benny is not to be overlooked. (Hey Stratford, can we keep him?)
theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Steve Ross (centre) as Nicely Nicely Johnson with members
of the company. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann
With this production you cannot ignore the dancers – in fact considering the choreography and pace they manage in this show it would be an insult to do so. The men get the flashier routines – the Crap Shooter’s Ballet came the closest to a spontaneous standing-o in an entire evening of outstanding numbers – but the staging showcases their immense talent and discipline and are cause to celebrate them all. 

See, a boring review. But don’t miss it just because the review is boring – odds are you’ll regret it if you do.

Guys and Dolls continues in repertory until October 29th at the Festival Theatre.

theatre review Guys and Dolls Stratford Festival
Blythe Wilson as Adelaide and Alexis Gordon as Sarah Brown.
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

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