Tag Archives: Guys and Dolls

A Safe Bet

GUYS AND DOLLS

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Wednesday 25th November, 2015

 

Frank Loesser’s classic musical comes to Birmingham prior to its residency in the West End in this new production by Chichester Festival Theatre. And it’s a safe bet for high quality entertainment. Based on the stories of Damon Runyon (think PG Wodehouse of the New York underworld) it’s a slight, light-hearted tale in which the protagonists are on the wrong side of the law, workshy, inveterate gamblers – perhaps that’s why we like them so much. Nathan Detroit (David Haig) is desperately seeking a venue for a craps game, meanwhile fending off the ire of his long-term fiancée, showgirl Adelaide (Sophie Thompson). To raise capital, he bets gambler par excellence Sky Masterson (Jamie Parker) that he can’t persuade Salvation Army-type Sarah Brown (Siubhan Harrison) out on a date… And so the scene is set for a charming story, peppered with great songs – the tunes keep coming: some have become standards.

As Nathan, David Haig perhaps surprises with the lightness of his comic touch – we are more accustomed to him in dramatic roles, but he captures Detroit’s twinkle. Jamie Parker’s Sky is brash but seductive; we see the gambler struggle with unfamiliar emotions as he finds himself falling for the staid Sarah Brown – appealingly played by Siubhan Harrison. Their night-out in a Havana club descends into a drunken brawl. The journey of these characters is subtly but clearly portrayed, giving them credibility in this rarefied musical theatre world. But the night belongs to Sophie Thompson’s Adelaide, in a powerhouse performance in which she channels a little of Marilyn Monroe and a lot of Lucille Ball to present us with a rounded characterisation that is comic, touching and endearing at the drop of a mink stole.

The four leads are supported by an excellent chorus and ensemble, fleshed out by a wealth of minor characters. The comic timing is spot on. Stand-outs are Ian Hughes as Benny Sidestreet and Nic Greenshields towering over proceedings as cheating heavy Big Jule.   Gavin Spokes stops the show with his Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat – his Nicely-Nicely Johnson is both detailed and broad, epitomising the production as a whole. With deft strokes, director Gordon Greenberg creates the world of the show, using Peter McKintosh’s emblematic set to keep the action fluid and scene transitions slick, allowing the cast to flesh out the characters who populate the story – they wear their humanity as obvious as the checks on their colourful suits. Carlos Acosta and Andrew Wright fill the space with energetic choreography, evoking period without being clichéd – the Havana sequence, including the brawl, is a definite highlight.

It’s a feel-good musical, seemingly effortless in its execution; Detroit and Masterson mend their ways in order to please their ‘dolls’ but the wry humour of the book (by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows) suggests that Detroit, at least, is not completely rehabilitated. It’s a show that celebrates human flaws and foibles in a production that delivers the highest standards of the performing arts.

Often, booking a ticket to see live theatre can be something of a gamble. Not in this case. A great night out is guaranteed. It’s as though the dice are loaded in the audience’s favour.

Jamie Parker (Sky Masterson) in Guys and Dolls - photo by  Johan Persson

Reach for the Sky: Jamie Parker (Photo: Johan Persson)

 

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A Bar is Born

PIANO BAR LAUNCH

New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 21st September, 2015

 

It’s not all reviews in this game, you know. Sometimes you get invited to other events in theatres – the pull of the complimentary drinks always proves irresistible, I find!

Never mind New Street Station! What’s put the New in the New Alexandra Theatre? The extra word was added to the name when there was a change of management a couple of years ago and the theatre became part of the ATG group of theatres. The new bosses have spent big money on bringing the building up-to-date and the purpose of this evening was to show off what has been achieved so far and to trail what is to come, with the event centred around the impressive new piano bar. Formerly “Gershwin’s” and another nameless bar/foyer area, the space has been unified into a coherent whole and very classy it is too. The floor is dark wood, the walls dark grey, set off by mirrors in gilt frames, with upholstered seats in a range of colours. If you know what it looked like before, it’s like someone’s been in from Changing Rooms, only this time the transformation is stunning in all the right ways. It’s upmarket but inclusive, stately but welcoming. It’s a very pleasant place to be. The crowning glory, of course, is the baby grand piano, which gets its ivory tickled before shows and during intervals. We have been upgraded!

General Manager, Andrew Lister welcomes us all. There is more to come, he says. The stalls and dress circle have all been refurbished with new carpet and seating – which uses something called ProBax technology, a sort of memory foam I suppose for added comfort and, more importantly, improved leg-room! The upper circle is to follow suit in the near future. There’s the Ambassadors’ Lounge, a 30-capacity bar tucked under the dress circle, for an exclusive hospitality passage: it’s like something out of the Orient Express (without the murders). Very swish.

We are treated to a performance of Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat by Gavin Spokes, who sings Nicely Nicely very nicely. The theatre has pulled off something of a coup: Guys And Dolls is coming to Birmingham prior to its West End run.  Programme Director Stuart Griffiths is keen to bring more drama in. The New Alex is better suited to some touring productions than other venues (likewise, some productions are better suited elsewhere) but, he says, there are enough people to keep Birmingham’s range of theatre going. “We’re not in competition,” he states, “but we complement each other.”

For me, the most striking moment of the tour of the building, is the chance to stand on the stage where a range of performers have stood over the past century. Mae West has performed here. Morecambe and Wise… Ant and Dec…

It’s a treat to see this historical auditorium from another perspective and appreciate the surprising intimacy of the place. What’s also great is to know the old place is in safe hands and unequivocally a major player in Birmingham’s cultural scene.

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