first night

Sit Down, You're Rocking The Gala

Sophie Zeldin-O'Neill is mesmerized by DULOG's annual Gala Show, "Guys And Dolls"


Several days have past since I went to see the seventh, and final, performance of Dulog’s ‘Guys and Dolls’. Admittedly this might reveal a somewhat lacking dedication to the fine art of reviewing, but I honestly believe that had I put pen to paper any sooner, the words you are now reading would be the lyrics of ‘Luck be a Lady Tonight’, or possibly ‘A Bushel and a Peck.’


Now, I’m as much a self-confessed musical nut as the next twenty first century female. I’m not saying I own High School Musical stationary, or anything as absurd as that (the pillow case is quite sufficient), but I do think there’s an awful lot to be said for that deliciously warm ‘fresh from a fabulous musical’ sensation. Upon my arrival at Durham’s stunning Gala theatre, (a venue packed near to capacity on each night of the show’s running), the atmosphere was one of eager anticipation, a little like the morning of a school trip, only with far more hangovers. After literally months of blanket-bomb promoting, it would have been rude to be both a student of Durham and not to have bought a ticket. I was lucky enough to bag myself a seat in the circle, and was thus afforded a glorious, panoramic view of the entire stage as the opening bars of the overture hushed the buzzing throngs into silence.


Ostentatiously kicking off proceedings with Frank Loesser’s buoyantly addictive overture was MD Matt Greenwood’s fabulous orchestral ensemble. These guys were an absolute delight throughout, doing full justice to the first class acting from start to fabulous finish. The overture lulled us effortlessly and imperceptibly into the world of 1930s New York, and a whole host of charming characters. The musical follows the story of Nathan Detroit and his gang of small-time gamblers as they duck and dive their way through an existence driven by ‘the oldest established crap game in New York’. In order to gather funds for the game, Nathan, played by Ollie Lynes, places a bet with the show’s other protagonist, the suave and charismatic, high-rolling Sky Masterson (Matthew Johnson) that he cannot persuade straight-laced prude and local missionary Sarah (Clare Lewis) to dine with him in Havana.


Cue a heady mix of hilarity and show-stopping energy from a production which had us in fits of laughter one minute and in mouth-gaping awe the next. The two protagonists and their respective ‘gals’ had an incredibly talented cast to lead, but boy did they do ‘em proud! Lynes was as hilarious as Johnson was mesmerizing, and Lewis played Sarah with all the grace and sweetness demanded of the role, plus a little extra pizzazz when the moment struck. Lynes’s Nathan Detroit was superbly supported by the comic duo of Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet (Jonny Bullock and Ben Salter), whose characterisation of unwitting cheeky chappies was amongst the finest of the cast. Mine and the audience’s favourite, however, was Nathan’s fussy finacee, the achingly funny and desperately lovable ‘Miss Adelaide’, played brilliantly by Victoria Murray, whose constant exasperation over Nathan’s devotion to gambling over her is an absolute delight to observe. This was epitomised in the soliloquy-turned-solo, ‘Adelaide’s Lament’ in which she expresses her fears that the chronic cold from which she suffers is a psychosomatic reaction to her frustration over Nathan’s continued failure to commit to her after fourteen years. Special mention must go, also, to Mike Shaw, whose excellent depiction both of brusque garage-owner ‘Joey Biltmore’ and small-time gambler ‘Rusty Charlie’ was testament not only to the versatility of his acting abilities, but also to the unbridled selection of fantastic names that appear in this show.


Spiking someone’s drink is always guaranteed to get a laugh. Well maybe not in real life, but amid the Brooklyn accents and Cuban dancers, it’s easy to favour smiles over scruples. And just when I thought things couldn’t get any better, in walked the second half, quickly picking up momentum with another helping of explosive musical magic. The show’s love story, that which develops between Sarah and Sky, is predictable, yes (I mean, come on – they’re a terrible match, and mutually unsuitable in every possible respect – it’s bound to happen!), but developed with such flair and charm that even the most rarefied artisan would be hard-pushed not to be tickled by the hilarious unravelling of events. Especially commendable in this half were the two Bens - Ben Whittle for his uproariously funny portrayal of ‘Big Jule’ and Ben Starr, who shone in the supporting role of ‘Harry the Horse’. The second half also played host to some of the show’s more famous numbers, including ‘Luck Be A Lady’, ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ and ‘Marry the Man Today’, reaching its ‘happily ever after’ climax and final, glorious flick of the baton with a flourish that every inch reflected the calibre of performance we had come to expect by this point in proceedings.


This no-expense-spared production was a feast for the senses from the very outset, and compulsively demanded the rapturous response it received after all the toe-tapping and dancing in the aisles had subsided. This musical extravaganza entirely lived up to its hype, and despite the very occasional misplaced step and ever-so-slightly flat note, I would be defying my every instinct (and my still-tapping feet) if I were to say it fell short of expectation. All elements were in place to guarantee a truly polished overall performance, and I constantly found myself in disbelief as to how a show of this standard had been produced by university students. Charlie Peters is to be superlatively commended on heading a show which, unusually for one of this genre, did not neglect any aspect of performance in favour for another, and which was complemented with sensitive attention to lighting, costume, music and choreography at every turn.  


On a basic level, Guys and Dolls succeeded in doing exactly what a good musical ought – Amid all the essay-induced stress that seems to characterise this time of year, it sated our need for glittering escapism. But more than this, it consistently astounded its audience with the sheer degree of professionalism exhibited by everyone involved, making for a thoroughly good value night out. This was a show that demanded we enjoy every moment, and who was I to disobey?

5 March 2009

The views expressed in the reviews and comments on this page are those of the reviewer, and are not representative of the views of DST or Durham University.
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