Guys + Dolls

Declan Dowling
17th Oct 2022

The Goofy and Dated, Glaring and Delicious, Glamorous and Downright Delirious American classic GUYS AND DOLLS clatters to the ARA Darling Quarter stage this week as the finale to MUSE’s 2022 mainstage production season. The much exalted GUYS AND DOLLS, Frank Loesser’s flagship title, holds great stead in the music theatre establishment and is often praised as ‘The Perfect Musical Comedy’. I suppose pickings were slim when that comment was made. But its energy, candor, sprite one-liners and dizzyingly exciting score will often draw me to a community or student theatre when they’ve given-up wanting to do anything meaningful, and instead want to have fun yelling the word ‘Showbusiness!’ for a couple of hours at an audience of their friends and family.

Of course GUYS AND DOLLS is far more textured than the word ‘Showbusiness!’ alone, or so I am told. But it is earnestly refreshing to be among those impassioned by whatever it is they see in the text that makes them want to be a part of it. No place embodies this refreshing quality more than the ARA Darling Quarter Theatre this week. This time around, producer Gayathuri Kathiravellupillai assembled first time Director William Rougut, Musical Director (and much acclaimed musician by his peers) Kevin Wang and Choreographer Sophie Highmore.

While limited by the budget restrictions that so many organizations are, Rogut chose a ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ approach, strong-arming the resources he had into the spectacle so expected of the show. Ultimately it seemed to work. Highmore’s choreography was rich with journey, story, energy and texture. It traversed a landscape of mountains, caverns, moonlight escapades and caffeine induced madness, as we salsa’d, lept and spun into the dizzying world of Runyonland. Though admittedly, the larger the group on stage, the more challenging the movement and flow of the action was to follow. Ambition might well be tempered by no more than a grain in favour of clarity.

Kevin Wang’s musical direction may well have provided the up and coming musician with a most challenging quandary indeed. I say this with all the love a person can; in matters of keeping time, the audience was able to keep it better with their applause. Each piece did seem to end more than once, as different sections of the orchestra lost and caught up with each other in a mad dash to the end of each measure. Like looking at an MRI, each song was presented in simultaneous overlapping slices which provided a carcoffanous dissection of Loesser’s otherwise bright and affecting score. Aside from which, the buzz-word for an energetic and bubbly ensemble is ‘Diction’, but musically they were incredibly sound and had a tingling warmth to their vocal candor.

Blake Condon’s lighting designs were arresting. Adding that heightened glamor and a spectacle most dynamic, which carried the evening over the line. However the aesthetically pleasing array of colour and beam placement came at the expense of visibility in a number of instances. I have no doubts that the obviously skilled designer will continue to tactfully make use of the resources he has in order to counteract this issue in future.

Oscar Seifried’s Nathan Detroit and Claudia Redolfi’s Miss Adelaide were a charmingly dissonant pair. Sky Masterson was effortlessly cool in the hands of Tavis Bancroft counteracting the most elevating vocals of Belinda Thomas as Sarah Brown. Some particularly notable performances sprung up from the supporting cast with Kieren Gregory’s fiery hips, John Vrionis’s fiery eyes and Jesse Donaldson-Jarret’s fiery sense of humor sneaking in everywhere it could to provide energy, character and a great deal of fun.

Rather interestingly enough I personally find that most the really impactful moments of the score and script in Guys and Dolls are in act two. None more so in my opinion than the famed 11 o’clock number ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat’, sung by ‘Nicely-Nicely Johnson’. The song whose unapologetic music-theatre-ness makes it dangerously infectious when performed with skill. I think anyone would struggle to disagree in saying that this production’s Nicely-Nicely, Louis Vinciguerra, has a voice and tone that is an ascent to heaven in and of itself. Ripe and resonant enough to settle any rocking boat. His originality in vocal performance, delivery, physical comedy and stylised presentation was like slipping into a warm bath, both he and the material were home at last.

Like a collective entity, university theatre seems to build on itself bit by bit universally in this city. Each production learning from each other and the ones that came before it. None more so than MUSE, whose dynamic range of performers, repertoire and performance opportunities sometimes act as a sunbeam on the cheek for the up-and-coming 20-30 something itching to continue to develop their skills in what is often a very cloudy town when it comes to opportunity for all. GUYS AND DOLLS is a testament to how they will all continue to grow and how they have grown; through passionate pursuit of friendship, skill, leadership and each other’s support.

I cannot think of any ideals which deserve an audience more.