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Hard to sit down with these Guys and Dolls floating your boat

Guys and Dolls, Rugby Theatre, until 16 June.

From the lively opening number featuring Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Pete Herring), Benny Southstreet (Alex Yorke), and Rusty Charlie (Roy Healey) you know you are once again in safe hands with the Rugby Theatre.

The Zoot Suits and two tone shoes reflect the onstage electricity. Everything about the production oozes quality. Before the show starts, the front of house team, the programme, the lighting, the live band and the set speaks of the professionalism of the company.

The stage is arched by a backlit display of period ads for diners, cars, beers etc which later (unlit) andvery cleverly creates the sewer pipe for the underground crap game. The three characters pull off a simple joke with a newspaper typical of Kenny Robinson’s highly detailed direction, followed quickly with some smart business involving Shoe Shine Charlie, a young Joseph Jones whose opening dance sequence is equally noteworthy. Guys and Dolls is a musical by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrow. The stage show premiered on Broadway in 1950, winning a Tony award for Best Musical.

The musical numbers follow each other in rapid succession, some better known than others, possibly due to the slightly more familiar Marlon Brando/Frank Sinatra film version leaving some out and adding three new ones.

Herring, Healey and Yorke deliver the first big show tune “Fugue for Tinhorns”, with splendid attack and the male chorus step up to the mark and match them note for note. We are then introduced to the dramatic foil to the gangsters, the Salvation Army style Save a Soul Mission with Sarah Brown (Jade Rayfield) at the head. Her clear, almost operatic voice, is perfect for her opening “Follow the Fold” and other more romantic duets later. It is not possible to mention all the leads or others in this large cast by name, but it was impossible to fault any aspect of the singing, dancing, musicianship or stagecraft involved. Even the Brooklyn accents held up with Adelaide’s Olive Oyl meets Marge Simpson twang sustained through speech and vocal. Not to be outdone by the men, the girls of the Hot Box Chorus get a chance to shine in pert gingham outfits and straw hats delivering “A Bushel and a Peck” with coquettish charm and perfect choreography.

Next up, Nathan Detroit’s “fiancée” of 14 years, Miss Adeleide’s first big number. Sophie Jone’s Betty Boop-ish showgirl gives “Adele’s Lament” just the right amount of pathos despite the humorous lyric. The packed house was appreciative of every number and extremely vocal especially for the big numbers like “Luck be a Lady”.

Here we are on more familiar ground and even in the midst of a rather distracting burlesque this reviewer had a Proustian moment transported back to Sunday lunchtime circa 1960 with Jean Metcalfe and Cliff Michelmore introducing such numbers on Two Way Family Favourites.

The standout showstopper was “Sit down you’re rocking the boat” given exhausting reprises as the cast climbed higher and higher in their enthusiasm lifting the audience with them. It was an excellent evening’s entertainment, faultless but for one note. This theatre goer was mildly distracted from an otherwise perfect evening by a minor detail.

If Mr Robinson could persuade Andy Horsley, an ideal Nathan Detroit, and Chris Kier Allen-Mason (Lieutenant Brannigan) to shave their distracting and rather anachronistic beards off before the end of the run, the Pulitzer is in the bag.

Barbara Goulden writes...

Terrific production by the 27-strong talented cast at the Rugby Theatre who really went into super-charge on Monday night offering not one, not two, but three reprises of Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat. It brought the house down.

But for me the stand-out performance was the group's rendition of Luck Be A Lady, led by Andy Horsley - a real triumph both musically and choreographically for all involved.

Andy and Jade Rayfield (Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown) made an engaging couple of star-crossed lovers, not helped in Act 1 by the sound system being a little high. This was corrected after the interval paving the way for some excellent numbers and performances of the wonderful characters created by Damon Runyon.

Naturally the most fun on stage is always offered up on a plate to the long-suffering Miss Adelaide, in this case played with saucy humour and style by Sophie Jones and her Hot Box "debutantes".

If you don't know this story, head off to Rugby and beg for a seat.

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