The atmosphere of the era is set the moment one enters The Chapel at Chapel Off Chapel, which has been transformed into a den of iniquity. The band is playing and the mood is raucous and raunchy, with gamblers, showgirls and puritans mixing freely with the audience. Particular attention is paid to those seated at the two tables set up below the tiered patrons. We’re in New York’s underbelly, pre-WWII.
Nathan Detroit (Shannon Foley) is a con man who makes his coin by staging illegal floating craps games. Down on his luck and skint, it is time to orchestrate another. His sidekicks – who do the legwork – include Nicely Nicely Johnson (Bugs Baschera) and Benny Southstreet (Angelo Vasilakakos). The problem is Detroit needs to find $1,000 up front to secure a suitable venue, while dancing around the long arm of the law.
He hatches a plan to try to fleece the money from a high-rolling gambler, Sky Masterson (Javon King), who is willing to bet on virtually anything. Detroit proposes a wager that he believes is all but impossible to lose, namely Masterson taking a woman of Detroit’s choosing to dinner in Havana, Cuba. Masterson accepts the gamble and Detroit picks strait-laced sergeant Sarah Brown (Maddison Coleman) from the Save-a-Soul Mission. Masterson promises to deliver a dozen “genuine sinners” to the Brown’s weekly prayer meeting, but she proves to be no easy mark.
Meanwhile, for the past 14 years Detroit has been engaged to nightclub singer Miss Adelaide (Willow Sizer) and she is upping the pressure on him to tie the knot. In fact, she has told her mother they are married with five children.
With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys & Dolls is based on a story and characters from Damon Runyon. It premiered on Broadway in 1950 and that original production went on to claim five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Direction and Best Choreography. It was also selected as the winner of the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, but writer Burrows was having troubles with the House Un-American Activities Committee. So, the Trustees of Columbia University, the award’s advisory board, vetoed the selection and no Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded that year.
Antipodes Theatre Company has done a superb job breathing new life into one of the greatest Broadway musicals. Guys & Dolls is lively, engaging and uplifting, a showcase of the best of musical theatre. The production design – set and costumes by Bianca Pardo – is spot on, instantly transporting us back to the day. Positioning most of the seven-piece band on stage works a treat. David Butler’s musical direction is exemplary. Movement director Jonathan Homsey and choreographer Carolyn Ooi have done a mighty job navigating the 17 performers in limited space.
The vocal proclivity and acting prowess on display are undoubted features of this fun-filled and jaunty offering. I was particularly taken by Javon King, who exudes self-confidence as Sky Masterson. Shannon Foley combines charm with slipperiness as Nathan Detroit. Willow Sizer is a revelation as Miss Adelaide, with a tonal range that is something to behold. Maddison Coleman brings high pitched soprano to her role as the do-gooder sergeant at the Mission. Bugs Baschera is buoyant as Nicely Nicely.
Lachlan Hewson exudes real menace as inveterate, out of town craps player Big Jule. Joey Phyland is commanding as tough guy Harry the Horse. A constant scene stealer with gravitas is Kikki Temple, who assumes the dual roles of the nightclub emcee and General Cartwright. The high ranking official is on the verge of closing the Mission. As Mission stalwart and Sarah Brown’s grandfather, Arvide Abernathy, Michael Lindner also has a fine, mellifluous set of pipes.
Co-directors Trudy Dunn and Brandon Pape ensure there is much to savour in a delightful, upbeat production of Guys & Dolls. It is playing at Chapel Off Chapel until 19th August, 2023.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- The Marvellous Elephant Man: The Musical (Chapel Off Chapel) – musical theatre review
- Urinetown: The Musical (Chapel Off Chapel) – theatre review
- Rent (Chapel off Chapel) – theatre review
Alex First is a Melbourne based journalist and communications specialist. He contributes to The Blurb on film and theatre.