This review originally appeared on Theatreview.
Guys and Dolls
Q Theatre, Auckland
31 October 2015
Directed by Raymond Hawthorne
Guys and Dolls, which first premiered in 1950, is based on short stories written by Damon Runyon in the 1920s and 30s. Runyon’s New York heaves with gamblers, holy-rollers, law enforcers and ladies of the night, who all coexist on the city’s dirty streets.
The stage lights come up to reveal a smoky New York haze hanging over the luxe set of plush red carpet and sparkling red lettering. Throughout the evening the set transforms from a streetscape to a Christian mission HQ to an underground gambling lair, sometimes ingeniously connected by manholes and ladders, and always delighting with thoughtful period touches.
Costume and set designer Tracy Grant Lord’s eye for detail doesn’t stop there. The stage is filled with gorgeous cast members decked out in equally gorgeous clothes. The women mince about in glamorous swing coats, and the men prance in high-waisted trousers, suspenders and trilby hats. Even the sensible shoe-wearing Save-A-Soul Mission brothers and sisters look fetching in their tailored red uniforms.
We’re introduced to big talking gambler Nathan Detroit (Shane Cortese) and his long-suffering fiancé Miss Adelaide (Sophia Hawthorne) – a nightclub performer with a psychosomatic cold. Nathan’s in a spot of bother – he needs to find somewhere to hold his illegal gambling game, but he doesn’t have the money to pay the venue. In order to raise some funds he bets fellow gambler Sky Masterton (Roy Snow) that he won’t be able to get Sister Sarah Brown (Rachel O’Connell) from the Mission to go on a date. Sky accepts the challenge, and so begins a chain of events that will change everyone’s lives for the worse – or the better – depending whether you think love’s a curse or a blessing.
Every aspect of the production is top notch, from the flawless live band through to the charming choreography. Special mention must go to the two numbers from the ‘Hot Box’ cabaret, A Bushel and a Peck and Take Back Your Mink, knowingly kitsch song and dance routines that provide a hilarious insight into the cheesecake culture of the era. The doe-eyed Sophia Hawthorne shines during both songs, and also showcases her comedy chops on Adelaide’s Lament.
As pious Sister Sarah, Rachel O’Connell embodies a different kind of woman, and sings I’ll Know and If I Were A Bell with a delicious feminine soprano that calls to mind Julie Andrews and Doris Day. Rachel takes Sarah from uptight do-gooder, to devil-may-care drunk, to man-eater with ease.
Roy Snow announces his lady-killer intentions with the line “Do you take sinners here?” before going on to woo the audience with the sweet I’ve Never Been in Love Before. He takes a different tack with Luck Be a Lady, where he sings as though his soul’s on the line.
Shane Cortese hits the jackpot as loveable rogue Nathan, who tries to keep everyone happy most of the time but ends up in trouble all of the time. His dashing and dastardly qualities are particularly evident as he battles it out with his fiancé on the touching and funny Sue Me.
The other cast members bring everything from angelic harmonies to slapstick comedy to exotic dancing into the mix. Andrew Grainger, as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, leads the company in a knock-out version of Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat, and the cheeky ‘Hot Box girls’ raise the temperature to boiling as they strip convention and shed their inhibitions.
When you see the name ‘Raymond Hawthorne’ on a poster you know you’re in for a good show, and Guys and Dolls is another triumph from the acclaimed director. It’s bold, sassy and thoroughly entertaining. It’s the perfect night out for anyone who’s ever been in love – or thought about it.
2023 Burns fellow Kathryn van Beek has an MA from Victoria University Wellington - Te Herenga Waka’s International Institute of Modern Letters. She is a winner of the Mindfood Short Story Competition and the Headland Prize. Her collection of short stories, Pet, is available as a podcast, and her work has also appeared in Overland, takahē, Newsroom, and the Sunday Star-Times. She lives in UNESCO City of Literature Ōtepoti Dunedin with her two rescue cats.