Lights down, the conductor walks on with a flourish to face his on-stage jazz-band-come-chamber-group and we are launched into the beginning of a jaunty overture which sets the trend for the rest of this lively, enthusiastic rendition of Guys and Dolls in the newly built Pilchette auditorium at Pembroke. Happily, Guys and Dolls is one of those musicals in which it gradually dawns on you that you know the rousing chorus for most of the songs. My particular favourites were “Sit down, you’re rocking the boat”, led by a sharp and funny Nicely Nicely, (Time Coleman), and Adelaide’s Lament, “A person can develop a cold”, sung in the strong and searing voice of Ellie Shaw, who adds a certain genuine emotion to what could otherwise have been a jolly but un-moving evening.
Callum Jackson, playing Benny Southwest, has pulled off the tricky feat of both directing and acting a lead role in a musical: his comic double-act with Nicely Nicely becomes a recurring motif throughout the play which we look forwards to with the reassurance that it will be amusing and seemingly flawless. Funny lines punctuate the musical: “I kinda like it when you forget to give me presents. It’s like we’re married” raised more than a few cynical chuckles, and the cast have resisted the ever-tempting venture of disrupting the script in order to insert too many college jokes.
The first half of this musical moves swiftly through its near hour and a half, and a technical glitch involving a staged telephone conversation and a microphone was triumphantly saved by some hasty improv, greatly appreciated by the audience. Admittedly the second half started off with a slight sense of the cast flagging at the end of a long night; but it soon picked up in a rousing rendition of “Luck be a Lady”, sung by the male half of the chorus who rendered the lack of microphones irrelevant, and a beautifully sung duet between Sarah Brown (Ros Dobson), and the delightfully aged vicar, Arvide Abernathy (Josh Barr).
This performance was filled with charming moments, one of the most memorable being an appearance of a mournful-looking Sky Masterson (Jack Graham) in a floral apron making pancakes, as seen in the imagination of Sarah Brown. The cast sang very competently, and included some truly talented singers; the choreography was lively and well-coordinated.
Undeniably there were hitches, and at times the delicate operatic voice of Sarah Brown contrasted with the powerful rough-and-ready Adelaide in a way which didn’t quite show off either to their best advantage, but this being the first night I feel sure that the musical will only come together even more over the coming week. Go and see Guys and Dolls for the reasons you would go and see any musical; to have fun and be entertained; and the evening is sure to be a success.