Guys and Dolls: Buffong’s charming version rolls the right dice in Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre
With all the tinsel at his disposal plus the merriment that carols inevitably evoke, director Michael Buffong chose to breathe new meaning to the term ‘festive’ in Manchester this season. Aided by a fresh new wind in its sails, the 1950s smash-hit musical Guys and Dolls has made its next port stop, all the way from Broadway to the Royal Exchange Theatre.
This is – in a ‘more-than-meets-the-eye’ definition – a colourful, sassy and glorious Royal Exchange Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company production. For one, it is the UK’s first all-black cast production. Let’s get back to that later.
It is only three weeks away from Christmas, and leading up to this period the Royal Exchange Theatre found themselves in a tricky position, of giving Manchester the production which this season so rightfully commands. Anything less would have been an unprecedented horror and fatal undermining of this classic favourite.
Punctuated by tight-sealed jazzy scores, colourful costumes, fluid choreography, charming dialogue which, incidentally provoked a member of the audience to be Miss Adelaide’s shoulder to cry on as Nathan sweet-talks her from leaving him, there is little room or time to spot any inconsistencies or clunky scenes – everything works, and quite wonderfully.
Set in New York, the show celebrates the off-beat stories of Damon Runyon that made the gangsters and hustlers of Harlem infamous. The juxtaposition between missionaries and hustlers invites the philosophy that people are fluid and can change, given the right time and circumstance.
The ‘all-black cast’
And on that note, that ‘all-black cast production’ strap-line. The production is timely yet simultaneously exceptional – in its content, at least – in avoiding the seeming political connotations that its description may exude. This is not Guys and Dolls re-badged and sold on as a Kaepernick-esque or Black Lives Matter stage chariot for the purists and misfits to hop on.
Ray Fearon (Nathan Detroit) comically leads the cast whilst balancing his addiction to gambling and not losing his fiancé Miss Adelaide. Lucy Vandi (Miss Adelaide) is charming and commanding on stage, as she summons her infectious telling of universal painful realities of the life one might have lived ‘if only’ such and such had happened. Her reality – an inflamed righteous anger towards Nathan yet all the while the existence of her love continually softens the blow of her painful 14-year engagement.
Ashley Zhangazha (Sky Masterson) offers a convincing reflective transformation when love takes him from big-time hustler to marrying mission sister Sarah Brown, sassily played by Abiona Omonua.
Ako Mitchell (Nicely Nicely) sharply delivers with ‘Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat’ to a resounding chorus of applause.
With tempos that fly and parachute their way back down with grit and radiant charm, this show has plenty of laughs and feels that will colour any dull evening.
TNT Arts & Culture Yasin Chinembiri
Photo Credit: Royal Exchange Theatre