Guys and Dolls - AIMS - Adjudicator's Critique 2016

Wednesday 24th February 2016 at 4:21 PM

The following is the public section of the show critique for our production of Guys and Dolls, by AIMS Adjudicator, Peter Kennedy:

An extremely tidy production of Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls" was just the ticket for another wet February night, and had ample amounts of love and "chemistry" to prove apt fare for Valentine's weekend.

Shane Farrell did a very good job conducting an orchestra who were strong on accuracy and balance throughout the show. He had also put the chorus through their paces, achieving a remarkable fine choral presentation, given the relatively small number of singers on stage. The male chorus, in particular, were never found wanting, and "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat" was the vocal highlight. Principals were vocally secure throughout. There was a fair bit of pruning of the score, particularly the "Runyonland" opening sequence, which was replaced by a "moved" overture, which didn't quite have the impact to get the show off to a rip-roaring start, but after that, it was plain sailing. The cuts to the Havana sequence and the Crapshooters ballet, I assume, were to limit the demands on choral dancing, but I was somewhat surprised, given the vocal abilities of both Sarah and Adelaide, that their vocal intro to the "Marry The Man Today" sequence was omitted. These are not major issues, however, in what was a splendid night of musicality.

Director, Colin Hughes went for a no nonsense approach to this production. It had all the signs of being well rehearsed and his cast certainly didn't fail to deliver. Characters were well realised, musical numbers were clean and tidy, with a minimum of fuss, and good pictures were presented on the stage. Chorus were well integrated into the action, and contributed significantly to the atmosphere of many scenes. The crapshooters scene in particular was always alive and full of the business of betting and reacting.

Likewise, Patricia McDermott did a very safe job on the choreography. Everything was neat and tidy, but without ever really setting the pulses racing. The show missed the energy of a busy, comedic "Runyonland" ballet, and yet they were already half way there with the "moved" overture, and particularly in this scene, I think perhaps the company were capable of more. The male chorus worked well in putting across "The Oldest Established" and "Luck Be a Lady" with a simplicity that allowed the vocals to shine, which, given the small chorus, was a good policy. "Bushel and a Peck" was "im-peck-ably" neat, but it was crying for out a tap routine or an injection of comedic business. "Take Back Your Mink" was very well devised and executed by the dancers. Havana wanted to be a bit sleazier, or perhaps more dynamic, but yet again, what was there was executed effectively and with little fuss. It was probably a good idea to shorten this dance and the Crapshooters ballet which, lacking a more flamboyant style, would have been overly lengthy. "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat" was a tidy and well devised routine. To put it plainly, I suppose my one major criticism of both production and choreography was that everything was rather ‘safe', and perhaps by stretching the abilities of the cast, the show may have gone from ‘polished' to ‘dynamic'. That said, it was a show that boasted a strong front line of very capable principals.

Real life couple, Niall and Julie Heaney, certainly didn't lack the "chemistry" to make their on stage relationship work. Niall gave a new twist to Sky, playing him with more character and less suavity than one normally expects from the role. It worked, and he was still suitably authoritative to command the respect of his fellow gamblers. He cut short the odd note here and there to disguise the fact that, vocally, the role stretched his range, but he did so with a care and craft that did not diminish the impact of his musical numbers. Good control, and a well balanced performance. Julie, in contrast, was at her most radiant when singing. "I'll Know" and "I've Never Been in Love Before" were controlled and beautifully performed, and there was comedy and character in her rendition of "If I Were A Bell". There was also great consideration in her treatment of her duets with Niall. Her character was well created, with a good transition from the fragile, protected mission doll, to her devil-may-care, drunk frivolity of the Havana scenes.

Kieran Croghan, as Nathan, looked like a cartoon character from the moment he entered the stage, and I'm delighted to say that he behaved accordingly, with good comedic effect, throughout the show. I wasn't always convinced that he was smart enough to be the wheeler-dealer, organiser of all things prohibited, but he was certainly dumb enough to find himself consistently in a pickle. A very good comedy performance, with a clear and adequate vocal ability.

Emer Kelly did everything that was asked of her in the role of Adelaide, although I do feel she could have been asked to do more. She displayed strong character acting, and a very good sense of comedy and timing, which I felt could have been stretched to an even more hilarious level. But as with other aspects of the production, she perfectly executed all that she was given to do. She looked superb, and her accent and vocal abilities were perfect for the role.

David Cooke and Pat Walsh delighted the audience with two tidy performances as Nicely-Nicely and Benny Southstreet. They acted and sang well together as a team, and David added a particularly outstanding vocal to "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat." The "Guys and Dolls" title song was very well sung, but might have benefitted from a little more comedy business.

Eugene Collins was a very believable Arvide, playing the role with warmth and sincerity, and even his slight fumbling in "More I Cannot Wish You" seemed to fit perfectly with his characterisation.

Ivan Moran established himself well in the role of Harry The Horse, blending silliness with sinister intent in a comical manner. Likewise, Chris Duffy was a very credible Big Jule, perfectly attired, and as dumb as he was threatening! John Griffin was a feisty, fussy Lt. Brannigan, and really looked the part. Frances Cooke was a suitably austere Gen, Cartwright, and Louise Kelleher, Michelle Cooke, John Callaghan, Aidan Flanagan and Kevin Moran all contributed well to the show in their cameo performances. Joseph O'Flanagan provided a secure third voice in the "Fugue for Tinhorns", as Rusty Charlie.

The Hot Box Dancers were very well turned out, and had radiant smiles when they danced, and while I wished for that stretching of their ability, they were neat and tidy in the execution of all their moves.

Technically and visually, the show was commendable. John O'Donoghue's well designed set was effectively, if not always speedily, manipulated by an efficient stage crew, under the guidance of Noel Kelly. The Havana scene was slightly underwhelming, while the Sewer scene was most effective. The construction and art work throughout was of a high standard. Lighting design by the director made good use of colour, and there was never an unscheduled dark moment. Liam Feeney's sound was crystal clear, with good cueing and balance. Costumes were always appropriate and in the case of Adelaide and her Hot Box dancers, stunning! There was good attention to hair and make-up.

Castlerea should be rightly proud of the standard of this production, and of presenting a thoroughly entertaining show, and I hope it will encourage them to go the extra mile in the future, by continuing to challenge their membership, and produce even more dynamic entertainment. Thank to all concerned for a very enjoyable night of musical theatre from a very talented cast.

Peter Kennedy
12th February 2016