Review: Guys and Dolls (Dress Run)

There's trouble for Nathan Detroit. Pictures taken during the tech run at Joseph Rowntree Theatre.

Luck be a lady in 1930’s New York…

Going into this dress run I knew very little about Guys and Dolls – but what a joy and an honour it was for my first experience with the show to be through York St. John Musical Production Society’s (MPS) version of the musical. 

It’s 1930’s New York and Nathan Detroit is in need of a place to hold his card game. He bets fellow gambler Sky Masterson $1000 that Sky can’t get the virtuous Sarah Brown to go on a date with him. And all Miss Adelaide, Nathan’s fiancee of 14 years, wants is for him to finally marry her. So the game is set.

Based on short stories by Damon Runyon the musical premiered on Broadway in 1950, and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Since then the musical has had several revivals both on Broadway and in London, and has also had a film adaptation starring Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Jean Simmons. 

As a York St John alumnus I was very fortunate to be able to come back to the university for Old John’s weekend (a weekend where alumni are invited back to campus for a celebration – which happened before the lockdown) and watch MPS’s open dress run.

The mission workers of Save-a-Soul.

Matthew Peyton plays Nathan Detroit and he gives a masterclass performance. His mannerisms as Nathan build up a totally believable character and his pitch perfect accent adds to the authenticity of the time and place. His chemistry with Hannah Shaw’s Miss Adelaide is touching and sweet and he has excellent comedic timing.

Hannah Shaw as Miss Adelaide is a joy to watch. Her ‘Adelaide’s Lament’ is both endearing and charmingly funny and her interludes with the wonderful Hot Box Dancers inject freshness and fun into the show. I was on her side the whole time, she was always right!

Miss Adelaide is perfectly juxtaposed against the more sophisticated Sarah Brown, played by Juliette Scarborough. Juliette’s voice was a pleasure to listen to, and she had the perfect balance of warmth and sternness with the character. ‘Marry the Man Today’, the duet between Adelaide and Sarah, was one of the highlights of the show.

Mitchell Strong has bags of charisma as Sky Masterson and he particularly shines in the number ‘Luck Be a Lady’. He builds the song with confidence and takes control of the stage very effectively. His Sky is smooth and suave and we’re rooting for him and Sarah to be together by the end. 

Mitchell Strong as Sky Masterson and Juliette Scarborough as Sarah Brown.

The excellent leads are matched by an equally strong supporting cast. Andrew Cockling brings menace and comedy in equal measure as Lieutenant Brannigan, while Matthew Rhodes is a scene-stealer as gambler Harry the Horse – his stage presence is fantastic. Flora Richards is lovely as General Cartwright and brings a brightness and vitality to the role, and Amber Ford as Grandmother (changed from Grandfather) sings a beautiful rendition of ‘More I Cannot Wish You’. Aaron Davidson’s Benny Southstreet is a perfect match with David Roberts’ Nicely-Nicely Johnson, and their harmonies particularly stand out in the title number ‘Guys and Dolls’.

David Roberts especially brings the house down in Nicely-Nicely’s show-stopping number ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat’. He confidently sings out the number and the energy he brought to the stage made me want to get up in my own seat too. He’s supported by excellent and rousing vocals from the ensemble cast, a credit to musical director Molly Whitehouse.

The cast as a whole were very strong and worked extremely well together and formed a cohesive and joyful ensemble. They had great expressions and background reactions, which stood out particularly in ‘Havana’. 

Choreographer Charlotte Allmand’s dance and movement is strong and captivating throughout the show and highlights the era and setting extremely well. The ‘Crapshooters Ballet’ is particularly mesmerising and I was unable to take my eyes off the performers on stage. 

Jasmine Towse directs with confidence and precision. Under her direction the show is humorous, warm and poignant and brings the classic to life. 

Understudy Miss Adelaide Aimée Yeoman rehearsing with the Hot Box Dancers.

Unfortunately, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic MPS’s production of Guys and Dolls had to be cancelled as Joseph Rowntree closed until further notice under government advice. Guys and Dolls would have played from Thursday, 19 March to Saturday, 21 March 2020.

The cast, committee and creative team have put so much hard work into this show and have breathed fresh new life into this classic musical. Keep up to date with York St John’s Musical Production Society on their Facebook page.

Let’s hope with some luck it gets to be performed for an audience soon. If so, rush to see it! It won’t be a gamble.