Guys and Dolls
Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
IT'S that time of the year, when the grim reality of life in Tory Britain seems even bleaker and, if you need something magical to blow away the festive blues, then this production of Guys and Dolls could provide it.
Take a bunch of great actors, add some song, a handful of smart, cheeky lyrics, a good dollop of fabulous jazz musicians and a pinch of va-va-voom and, hey presto. You get two hours of seasonal, heartwarming good cheer. Unless, of course, you are Scrooge or a Tory minister.
Of all the great musicals, Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls has had the most interesting history. First performed on Broadway in 1950, it won numerous awards including a Pulitzer prize which was withdrawn because Abe Burrows — who wrote the book with Jo Swerling — fell foul of the McCarthy witch-hunt.
In 1976, in defiance of the discrimination rife on Broadway, director Billy Wilson staged the musical with an all-black cast. Despite critical acclaim, the sniping from the media — especially from the New York Times — ensured it never became the hit it deserved to be.
Over four decades later the Royal Exchange, along with Michael Buffong’s acclaimed Talawa Theatre Company, give us another all-black version of this great musical. As if to prove a point, this important statement for equality quickly melts into a fabulous, colour-neutral show performed by hugely talented actors, singers, dancers and musicians.
Like most musicals, the storyline is both preposterous and incidental. A gang of hustlers being hassled by New York’s finest are searching for a card game and the side bet is that big-time gambler Sky Masterson won’t be able to entice pretty Salvation Army sergeant Sarah Brown to accompany him to Havana.
Conventionally, their entanglement leads to the path of true love, but it’s the singing and dancing that’s the point and the excellent ensemble cast deliver an infectious, delightful spectacle.
Ashley Zhangazha is wonderful as Sky, with his dapper suits and smooth-talking jive. A real highlight is Lucy Vandi’s Miss Adelaide, brassy yet vulnerable, with a golden voice that could melt the coldest heart. Soutra Gilmore’s cleverly evocative design creates the perfect setting for this splendid festive feast.
Runs until January 27, box office: royalexchange.co.uk
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