Guys and Dolls
Harvest Rain Theatre Co
QPAC Concert Hall
March 20 – 23 2014
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
I love Guys and Dolls. I love the show, I love the music and I still love the movie. I love the iconic 40s fashion and I love the language, the strangely natural formal Runyonese. Along with Seven Brides for Seven Brothers it may be an odd contemporary choice for a big-budget show, but despite the archaic sentiments, there is much to enjoy. Tim O’Connor’s Guys and Dolls for Harvest Rain, their first fully professional production, is suitably bright in terms of its costumes and lively characters, but something is missing and it might just be the same clarity and sincerity I’ve longed to see for years from this company. Who IS Harvest Rain, anyway? Has anybody cracked them yet? For the life of me, I can’t put my finger on what is is that leaves me hanging after each production, despite the impressive individual elements and collective talent we see in their shows.
The audience at the Sunday matinee last week was subdued to say the least, though I could see there were many who enjoyed the show, most notably a heap of young theatregoers, including a group of MFAC senior students and their mums, who had organised themselves to see the show; they said they enjoyed it very much. I have no doubt that it was a very different vibe to that of opening night, which I was unable to attend due to my commitment to A Little Night of Music – Songs From the Silver Screen, starring some of Australia’s most accomplished musical theatre stars, and which I only mention for the sake of saying that Angela Harding, who played the proud “missionary doll” Miss Sarah Brown, may very well have felt right at home on that stage too, such is the calibre of her performance in this Guys and Dolls.
Harding adds her own jazz baby cabaret gold to the role, giving the character a little less saccharine sweetness than we’ve seen historically, and a little more spunk. There are times when she and Skye Masterson (Ian Stenlake) have a lovely connection but it’s not often, which is simply not enough for a show built around that unlikely relationship. Chemistry? Yeah, not so much. Stenlake is charming on stage though, and styles up his singing just enough to deliver a great performance overall so we’ll forgive them and the casting process.
Speaking of casting, Liz Buchanan is just gorgeous as Miss Adelaide, and I’m sure her Hotbox girls must be too, only we don’t get more than a strained glimpse of them because somebody forgot to turn up the lights.
This is the darkest production I’ve ever seen Jason Glenwright light away from shake & stir and in many places it’s too dark. We lose energy and pace when we lose colour and the characters’ faces, including during the Hotbox scenes, which are playfully choreographed and snappily executed, if only we could see them! I think I get the concept – it’s very Dick Tracy (I LOVE Dick Tracy!) – we see the star in the spotlight and the secondary characters inhabiting the shadows around them, but it’s not cinema and it doesn’t do it for me. Is it just me? Josh McIntosh’s design allows big, open performance spaces across a couple of levels and it’s a shame to lose so much action amongst the shadows.
Daryl Somers, as Nicely Nicely Johnson, does indeed do the job nicely; he’s a true blue triple threat and Sit Down Your Rocking the Boat is, as it should be, a highlight. In the same breath, I’ll mention our good friend, Dale Pengelly (Benny), who sings and dances and caricatures up a storm. In this comical secondary role, Pengelly reveals yet another box of tricks to add to his extensive performance repertoire, shining brightly and at the same time resisting stealing any of the limelight. Pengelly might just as easily have played either major male role.
Steven Tandy brings warmth and Santa Claus kindness to Abernathy. I can imagine no better reading of this role. I even enjoy his song, More I Cannot Wish You, which is the one I would usually skip on the DVD.
I enjoyed the show, it’s true that I loved lots of it, including Wayne Scott Kermond’s Nathan Detroit and the orchestra on stage (or above it), led by Maitlohn Drew. Strangely though, there is something not quite…enough about this production of Guys and Dolls. It’s all there, sure, in fact it’s not even heart that’s missing, but something is still not able to penetrate Harvest Rain’s shiny, happy high school musical walls. If you know what it is I’d love you to enlighten me. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to seeing the greatest number of unpaid ensemble members in a fully professional production, in July, in CATS.