‘Blessed are the feet of those who preach good news” reads the sign at the Save-a-Soul Mission in New York City. In charge at the Mission is the decidedly attractive Sarah Brown, and the souls to be saved mostly belong to local gamblers, who are ever hopeful of setting up an illicit game of crap. But Sky Masterson is known for being willing to take a bet on almost anything: and so it is that $1,000 rides on him luring the saintly Sarah into taking dinner with him in Havana, Cuba.
Thus begins the storyline of Frank Loesser’s musical Guys and Dolls. Based on two short stories by Damon Runyon, the show is packed with memorable solo numbers and big-scale chorus set pieces. All of which makes it highly suitable for Musical Youth Company of Oxford, who present Guys and Dolls at the Playhouse this week..
‘Resist the Devil!’ proclaims Sarah Brown. Ruby Crepin-Glyne plays her as a forceful lady, both in character and vocally. It’s no surprise that Sky Masterson (Shakur Gabbidon-Williams, suitable cheeky) gets a slap round the face as he propose that crucial dinner date. But Sarah meets her match in Miss Adelaide, principal artiste at the Hot Box nightclub. The role is taken by Amy Vicary-Smith: ‘She’s been engaged for 14 years,” Any explained in an Oxford Times interview. No Wonder she’s wistful as well as in-you-face, as this admirably demonstrates.
Miss Adelaide’s fiancee is the suitably slithery Nathan Detroit (Harry Hemingway-McGhee): much is made of his height as he squares up to big-time gambler Big Jule from Chicago (Nathaniel Rehman, who has a wonderful array of facial expressions) – Big Jule is comparatively short. Gawping from the side-lines is an excellent comedy gang of sidekicks, headed by the always-eating Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Arran Johnson).
Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat is perhaps the show’s very best company production number, but with A Bushel and a Peck, Havana and Crapshooters’ Ballet as well, there’s plenty for director and choreographer Guy Brigg to work on. He sets some big challenges – Havana, for instance, has complex hand and footwork, and collapses into a fight at the end. The 47-strong company performs with most impressive zest and confidence, but, I felt when watching the dress rehearsal, it is constrained by the size of the Playhouse stage.
In the pit, Julie Todd and her zippy band keep the show moving at a well-judged pace. Altogether, you’ll definitely leave the theatre with a smile on your face.
MYCO’s production of Guys and Dolls, performed by a cast of young singers, dancers and actors aged 12-18, is bursting to the seams with fresh talent and ability. The performance, much hyped both locally and online, surpassed all expectations and left everyone with a smile on their face.
Set in a highly stylised New York, with slick and often highly-caricatured dance moves rehearsed to perfection, this production set the bar high from the start. The cast all performed with flair and commitment, and soaring solos were complemented by rich choruses.
Ruby Crepin-Glyne, as the missionary Sarah Brown, stunned us all with her crystal voice, hitting every note perfectly. Shakur Gabbidon-Williams gave a very strong performance as Sky Masterson with his distinctive melodic voice, his subtle, well-paced delivery (I was impressed by the way he managed to squeeze so much humour from his lines through a blunt, understated delivery, never over-egging a joke) and his remarkably expressive eyebrows. Harry Hemingway-McGhee gave a very cartoony and comical interpretation of Nathan Detroit, a chronic underdog with a fourteen-year-long engagement. Amy Vicary-Smith performed Adelaide’s Lament with a rare mixture of frustration and vulnerability, her versatile voice changing to suit each song. The Marry the Man Today duet between Sarah Brown and Adelaide was a fantastic moment in the show.
One of the musical’s indisputable stars was Arran Johnson as ‘Nicely-Nicely Johnson’, who had the audience laughing almost every time he opened his mouth and went on to stun with an impressively strong and rich, very atmospheric rendition of Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.
However even those without main parts were given opportunities to impress, with lots of dancing from the chorus and a number of cameo performances from members of the company. I particularly enjoyed the dancing dice in theCrapshooter’s Ballet – an inspired idea – and the Havana sequence, which was amusing and impressive. And glittery.
The choreography was both fun and ambitious, with dances rehearsed to perfection. Throughout the cast there was not one single weak link – every performer was talented and professional, and the resulting performance was stunning – creative, amusing and perfectly paced. High notes, high kicks, very high standards. I can honestly say this is one of the best things I’ve seen in Oxford.
Coral – DI Reviewer; 10th April, 2014
The individual talents of key members of the cast shone out, in particular Amy Vicary-Smith as Miss Adelaide who filled the stage with her presence, particularly during the song Adelaide’s Lament; and Arran Johnson as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Matthew Allison as Benny Southstreet, two sidekick gangsters. Shakur Gabbidon-Williams, as Sky Masterson, also sang with a measured and relaxed style, his voice rich with classic honeyed tones.
Despite the large cast still in their teens that pack the stage and some big show tunes that would present a challenge to anyone, The Musical Youth Company of Oxford perform with style, poise and self-possession that defies their age, as well as some impressively good New York accents assuming the cast are mostly born and bred in Oxfordshire!
Under the careful stewardship of Guy Brigg and Julie Todd, who develop around thirty youngsters to a level of which they should all be proud, they have produced a well-choreographed and humorous show that is fun, colourful and a pleasure to watch with simple staging and some striking costumes for the female ensembles, from red dresses as dice, shimmering gold dancing girls and pink corsets teamed with fur coats.
And so, whether gambling or god-fearing is your bag, I recommend you head over to Broadway on Beaumont Street and settle in for an evening in the depths of New York to enjoy the energy and talent that MYCO have brought to the stage this week.
Theatreworld Internet Magazine, April 10th 2014