Sunday, November 5, 2017

Guys and Dolls - Queanbeyan Players

Review by John Lombard

Guys and Dolls is a musical with a lot to offer a performer.  Not only does it have an excellent score by Frank Loesser, but it has snappy and clever writing - in particular the material added by Joseph L. Mankiewicz for the 1955 film.

Director Jude Colquhoun's production of this repertory staple is blessed with a cast that are up to both sides of the show: the acting is engaging and satisfying, while the music is brilliantly realised.

Where the production stumbles is in pacing, which ranges from sedate to glacial.  Actors take their time with dialogue, energy levels are generally low, and blocking often feels like watching a traffic jam.  While the leads are strong, the meandering pace robbed the comedy of momentum - scenes that should have been hilarious were not given the opportunity to build tension.

However the music in this production is striking and exceptional.  The work of musical director Jenna Hinton and vocal director Emma White to bring the orchestra and the cast together shone through.  Some of the levels in the orchestra felt off - the trumpets in particular sounded unusually soft, something particularly noticeable in a musical that calls for a brassy sound. But overall the music in this production had an impressive polish, in particular the skilful harmonies between performers.

Dancing in the show was less successful, and there was sometimes a sense that the cast were just trying to fill time so the orchestra could show off their skill.  However Queanbeyan Players has always had an engaging community spirit: the ensemble had a keenness to entertain and took evident pleasure in their work.  The ensemble also threw in lots of small character touches and details, which gave the show a lot of life without pulling focus from the main performers.

Anthony Swadling was very likeable as the affable Nathan Detroit, while Steve Galenic had presence as master gambler Sky Masterson - even if he seemed a little too cuddly.  The contrast between the pair was not as strong as it could have been, especially since the script is very clear about the difference in their temperaments in the unforgettable cheesecake scene.

Tina Robinson was brilliant and hilarious as Detroit's long-suffering finance Adelaide, and her song "Adelaide's Lament" was a comic highlight.  Kitty McGarry as mission sister Sarah Brown gave a strong performance, and her extraordinarily clear voice stole scenes.  Ben Wilson also gave a memorable performance as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, winning hearts with his clear relish for being on stage and his performance of "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat".

But as satisfying as the acting and the music were, awful pacing dampened the impact of the show.  Great music did not make up for sluggish behaviour on stage.  Some orchestral scenes, such as the Cuba sequence, worked because they were driven by clear actions by the performers.  Others, such as the sewer craps game, dragged badly because they were hesitant and muddy.  The production ran for 3 hours including interval, and a fair chunk of that was dead air and leisurely scene changes.

Queanbeayan Players' production of Guys and Dolls delivers wonderful music and fun performances.  However it is hampered by some weak direction, and demands endurance as much as it entertains.