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Guys and Dolls (Cambridge)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Regional theatres have a proud history of mounting first-rate musical shows on minimal budgets. Some of them even host world premières – the New Wolsey in Ipswich and the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch come to mind. But, the annual pantomime apart, it’s some years since the Arts Theatre in Cambridge staged a home-grown professional production of a full-scale musical.

Guys and Dolls is the logical successor to 2008’s semi-professional production of Anything Goes and last year’s My Fair Lady. Musical director James Dunsmore sets the tone from the first note with his scaled-down orchestra of 12 woodwind, brass and percussion players as Nick Bagnall whirls the opportunist street-wise gamblers and double-dealers of Runyan’s New York onto Nicky Bunch’s angled and flexible set.

This is one of those shows where the minor characters make as much impact as do the principals. Choreographer Danielle Manfroi has devised some smart dance moves and drilled the male chorus into a marvellously coordinated synchronicity for the second act show-stopper “Sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat”. Both the Hot Box cabaret scenes and the Havana interlude have dances which are right for both the period and the specific locations.

Jenni Maitland as Adelaide produces a smokey voice which is ideal for her two laments. You can see why Fergal McElherron’s Nathan Detroit is at the same time caught up with her and reluctant to admit the tender trap. Harry Hepple looks good as Sky Masterson and sings extremely well. Matching him as Sarah, the girl with a mission, is Anna Lowe, who projects a no-nonsense personality dissolving into lyricism for “If I were a bell” and the duets with Sky and Adelaide.

It’s a large cast with some sharing of roles. Chris Howell as Nicely-Nicely, Scott Riley as Harry the Horse, Roger Mander as missioner Abernathy and Lukus Alexander as a diminutive Big Jule are particularly effective as bets are laid, promises go astray and the street-life flows up, down and under Broadway. It would be good to think that all this hard work which has led to such an effective piece of musical theatre might have an extended life.


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