Crucible Theatre, Sheffield – until 18 January 2020
Guest reviewer: Lottie Davis-Browne
Forget Christmas Day and all the fun and festivities surrounding it – for me the highlight to the end of the calendar year is always Sheffield Crucible’s Christmas/New Year production. I’ve attended every annual Christmas production for the last few years when I first relocated to Sheffield, and have yet to see one that didn’t blow my socks off.
This year’s offering – the much-loved, Tony Award-winning 1950 Broadway musical Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, didn’t just blow my socks off, it completely blew me away.
From the moment I entered the Crucible auditorium and set eyes on the magnificent stage set up. From the various doors and window frames that set the scenes of Mindy’s cafe, the Save a Soul Mission headquarters and the Havana restaurant; to the smaller details of the grand New York tall buildings which house the live band – complete with each band member being in costumes from the 1920s and 1930s gangsters and gamblers era this story is set in.
From vintage style Christmas cards strung across the window, to the retro wallpaper, door wreath and lit Christmas tree, the high-raised band is as fascinating and mesmerising to look at as the rest of the cast.
Just when I thought this set design couldn’t be anymore breath-taking, my eyes were then drawn to the 360 degree rotating stage, complete with retro New York traffic lights and the huge manhole covers to the underground (which you get to see in action later on in the story).
The story is based around three-small time gamblers – Nicely Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet and Rusty Charlie, and Nicely and Benny’s employer Nathan Detroit – who runs an illegal floating crap game.
With eagle-eyed, no nonsense Lt. Brannigan, a local Policeman on their tails – the only safe place to hold the game is at the Biltmore Garage – however it comes with a hefty charge of $1,000 – demanded in advance by garage owner Joey Biltmore. In order to raise this money, Nathan hopes to win a $1,000 bet against Sky Masterson, a gambler willing to bet on virtually anything. Nathan proposes a bet he believes he cannot lose: Sky must take a woman of Nathan’s choice to dinner in Havana, Cuba. Sky agrees, and Nathan chooses pious and beautiful Sergeant Sarah Brown, leader of the Save a Soul mission band. It’s not an easy bet to win, but Sky is determined to gain Sarah’s trust and whisk her away to Cuba.
Meanwhile, Nathan goes to watch his fiancé of fourteen years – Miss Adelaide, perform her nightclub act (“A Bushel and a Peck“). After her show, she asks him, as she has many times before, to go down to city hall and get a marriage license. She also tells Nathan that she has been sending her mother letters for twelve years claiming that they have been married with five children. She is distraught to find out that Nathan is still running the crap game. She consults a medical book, which tells her that her chronic cold is a psychosomatic reaction to her frustration with Nathan’s failure to marry her.
It’s impossible to single out a favourite cast member – each one having something special and unique about them. Having seen Natalie Casey’s older sister Anna in so many productions (including several for Sheffield Theatre Productions), I was unbelievably excited to finally get to see Natalie perform on stage (most people over a certain age – myself included – will remember Natalie from television shows “Hollyoaks”and “Two Pints of Lager”), and I certainly wasn’t left disappointed. Capturing the comical and classic show girl side of Miss Adelaide perfectly, Natalie often only had to say a one word line or pull a facial expression to have the entire audience in fits of laughter. Goofy but loveable, with a somewhat annoying voice – it’s hard not to be smitten by Miss Adelaides charm. Vocally Casey was also sensational – with the comical big numbers including “Bushel and Peck”, the sneezy “Adelaide’s Lament”, and my favourite “Take Back Your Mink” – again having the audience in stitches with the joyful to angry switch between verses.
Returning to Sheffield Theatres, Alex Young (Standing at the Sky’s Edge, Showboat and Anything Goes) – as Save a Soul Mission band member Sarah Brown – an idealistic but sheltered missionary, Alex captures the sweet, kind and somewhat vulnerable side to Sarah with ease. Going from a plain and simple missionary to coming out of her shell and falling in love for the first time, Alex and Kaddif Kirwan as long term gambler Sky Masterson – are a perfect pairing.
Another huge standout in this production is the wonderful choreography (Matt Flint), a favourite highlight for me being the male ensembles group dance during an instrumental of “Luck Be a Lady”. I also did a little happy dance inside and shed a tear of joy and acceptance, when another stand out performer – Garry Robson (Arvide Abernathy) first entered the stage. As a wheelchair user myself – I often feel frustrated that we often overlooked in the world of work – especially in jobs where we are face-to-face with the general public – and whilst it was the warmth in the character he played that was the first thing I noticed – once I had realised Robson was a full time wheelchair user – it made me love his character even more so – how he was able to engage effortlessly into choreography of the role, to the point where the wheelchair became unnoticeable and irrelevant – for me personally the joy of seeing a fellow wheelie being recognised for their ability rather than their disability – was a pivotal moment in theatre history for me personally.
Each year I always think Sheffield Theatres can’t excel the previous Christmas production, but once again I was proved wrong. Grab the hottest ticket in town now before it’s too late!
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