Sensational costumes, well-designed sets and wonderful music are highlights of CLOC’s second 2013 offering, the immortal Broadway classic Guys and Dolls. Slick though many aspects of the production may be, however, the show somewhat wears out its welcome over the long three hour running time, with a surer, more inspired approach needed to do full justice to the comedy and the choreography.
Given the extraordinary technical achievements of CLOC over the past decades, it is surprising to see one of their productions revert to the pre-1980s style of blackouts and slow set changes. The modern approach is for fluid stagings, with audiences accustomed to seeing sets and props dancing into place from scene to scene. Slow tempi in songs and a lack of snappiness in the dialogue also contribute to the 15-20 minute blowout in running time.
But back to those wonderful costumes. Victoria Horne has proved herself yet again the master of both the big picture and the fine detail, creating an eye-popping range of witty, delectable, character-enhancing costumes. Using a sumptuous palette of dark reds, purples and blues, with splashes of yellow and pink, Horne paints a vivid picture to match the larger-than-life New York of Damon Runyon’s fantastical fables. The Hot Box bright yellow chickens are a hoot, with the shimmering electric blue outfits for “Take Back your Mink” even more special. Sarah’s pale pink Havana ensemble is perfectly feminine yet demure, Adelaide’s gorgeous wedding gown features a bold 1950s hemline and the men’s suits feature a terrific array of outsized checks and stripes. One questionable choice is to have Adelaide split her time between blonde and brown wigs, and Lt Brannigan needed a bit more work to have him look a bit more intimidating. Horne and team should be justifiably proud of their achievements here, a reflection of their research, flair and countless hours of labour.
Chris White’s set designs display his trademark talent for perspective, colour and spectacle. Backdrops are expertly painted by White and team, and constructed sets, although not particularly innovative, create depth and interest through clever use of angles and dimensions. Having the men slide down a pole to the underground sewer is a clever touch, and the oyster footlights of the Hot Box are a lovely detail.
A similar level of detail is needed in the direction, particularly in realizing the comedy of Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ revered book. One-note physical clowning is no substitute for witty, character-based humour. While the four lead characters are generally well drawn, supporting roles such as Lt Brannigan, General Matilda Cartwright and Big Jule arrive undercooked, robbing the show of the colour of their character arcs. The elaborate toilet gag, which ruins the end of “Luck Be A Lady,” should be flushed immediately.
Choreography by Lynette White, who also served as co-director with Chris White, is period appropriate, tightly rehearsed and very well suited to the varying levels of dance talent in the cast. White continually varies formation and styles to maintain visual appeal, and the company have clearly been drilled to exude high energy and enthusiasm. “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat” is a terrific example of this. For all its proficiency, there is a lack of storytelling in the dance, with missed opportunities in sections such as “Runyonland” and “Havana.” One more quibble – the busy dancing of chorus members around Nicely, Benny and Rusty as they sing choice Broadway standard “Fugue for Tinhorns” is an unwelcome distraction.
Lighting designer Brad Alcock creates texture and place through well-selected gobos, and adds a fun visual gag with the a bump in the lights each time Adelaide sneezes. Marcello Lo Ricco’s sound design is reliably excellent, and the underground sound effect for the sewer scene is an adroit touch.
Musical director Phillip Osborne leads the 17-piece orchestra in an enjoyable performance of Frank Loesser’s celebrated score. Dance breaks sound particularly vibrant. Lead and chorus singing has been prepared to the highest standard, with harmonies sounding particularly strong.
Jon Sebastian is in superb voice as self-assured gambler Sky Masterson. Sebastian maintains a smooth, unflustered style that neatly offsets the more outlandish supporting roles. Kelly Windle has an exquisite operatic soprano that is a pleasure to hear. Windle plays the blossoming young missionary Sarah Brown with confidence and flair.
Sarah Watson is an expressive, endearing Miss Adelaide, easily managing the song and dance requirements of the iconic role. Scot Hili moves with panache as Nathan Detroit, keeping the audience’s attention with a mischievous sparkle in his eye.
Michael Butler and Jason Mill have clearly been directed to adopt a Laurel and Hardy type of style as Nicely-Nicely and Benny and they give this their all. This slapstick approach, however, hinders further character development and ultimately becomes a little tiresome.
Peter Maver acquits himself most impressively as gentle soul Arvide Abernathy. Experienced performer Barry Baker provides strong support as Rusty Charlie.
The large ensemble work at their optimum level all night, singing and dancing at a very high standard and raising energy levels whenever they are on stage.
Guys and Dolls plays at National Theatre, St Kilda until 19 October 2013.
Read reviews of previous productions by CLOC Musical Theatre:
Photos: Carlos Ramirez
This review published on Theatre People 6 October 2013