Image courtesy of Oliver Buchanan.
Guys and Dolls
The Church Hill Theatre
Guys and Dolls is celebrated as one of the world’s best-loved musicals, and it is conceivably for this reason that it has been chosen by Edinburgh University Footlights as their second semester performance. As many will be aware, the musical revolves around the lives of New York gamblers during the 1930s, specifically Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson, alongside their female love interests, Nathan’s fiancée of fourteen years, Miss Adelaide, and Sergeant Sarah Brown, the head of Broadway’s ‘Save-A-Soul’ mission.
As part of a money-making scheme in order to secure a location for his illicit crap game, Detroit bets Masterson that he will be unable to take the Sergeant to Havana the next day. Masterson, a charming and seemingly sincere gambler, unbelievably manages to secure dinner with the Sergeant in Havana and, somewhat predictably, falls in love with her.
A marked feature of the performance was the placement of the orchestra, who were raised upon a platform at the back of the stage. They were clearly extremely gifted and their music was a highlight of the show. The set was simple, with slight changes made according to location, and a small staircase leading up to the orchestra that the actors occasionally used for purposes of dialogue and song. The transitions between set changes could have perhaps been smoother and more rapid, especially in the second act, but this is indeed a minor complaint in the scheme of the whole production.
The show was well-cast and the actors playing the four main characters displayed ample talent; in particular, Ellie Millar, who played Sergeant Sarah Brown and captured her character’s emotional arc well, and whose vocal range was exquisitely delicate, especially when singing the intricate melodies of ‘I’ve Never Been In Love Before’. Another high point was Adam Makepeace, who played Nicely Nicely Johnson, singing ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ with a unique energy and resonant vocal tone that ended the musical spectacularly.
Guys and Dolls is indeed a show of its time; it vividly depicts a unique point in New York’s recent history, with the simultaneous glamour of the suited gangsters and griminess of the underbelly of New York’s social scene, rife with gambling, drinking and showgirls invariably used for entertainment – such is the career of Nathan’s Miss Adelaide.
While perhaps there is more to be said for last year’s Rent by Edinburgh Footlights, there were many artistic and innovative developments, most notably switching the gender of Big Jule, a gangster from Chicago, as a tribute to the famed female gangsters of the era.
In this way, Guys and Dolls was an energetic production with a great deal of precision, particularly in the choreography of Grace Dickson in the Crapshooter’s Ballet. Good casting and attention to detail ensured the production’s undoubted success.