Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

guy and a doll

A guy and his doll, Tim Benjamin as Sky Masterson and Leah Fennell as Sarah Brown

Guys and Dolls

Sutton Arts Theatre


Welcome to the wonderful world of Damon Runyon in a musical fable of Broadway with its colourful characters, gamblers, hustlers and showgirls, who all come alive with their horses and craps, potatoes and markers as today turns into yesterday and tomorrow beckons – in short a tale of Guys and Dolls.

This is one of the great shows, hailing from 1950, bang in the middle of the golden age of musicals and Sutton Arts have done it proud . . . more than somewhat as Runyon would have had it.

Sutton set the bar high with their first venture into big budget musicals with a superb West Side Story in 2015 and the standard has been high ever since but this is right back up there with strong leads, great choreography (Simon Hundley, Emma Green and Sophie McCoy) and Frank Loesser’s wonderful songs in Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows' book.

The script is a clever delight, packed with glorious lines with music that is pure magic with songs which range from jazz to show tunes, ballads to comic, it is just a delight to listen to under musical director and conductor Gladstone Wilson with his 12 piece band putting out a big band sound.

With no pit and a band in the adjoining tea room it is not easy for cast or conductor but, apart from the odd crackle, you would be hard put to notice. Not that that is the only problem to overcome. Sutton has no wings and no flies, it really is a black box, a wysisyg stage and Mark Natrass is a master at creating designs which defy the restrictions.

And, with a cast of 35, and no room, the cast have to become scene shifters to create a Broadway Street, the inside of the Save a Soul Mission, a Havana nightclub and . . . a New York sewer, with panels and flats swivelling, lifting, reversing and slotting like some giant jigsaw puzzle with a couple of video screens helping to set locations. 


Suzy Donnelly as Miss Adelaide and her heartfelt lament

But out of adversity has emerged a gem of a production. We have Aarron Armstrong-Craddock as Nathan Detroit, famed for running the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York

It is a nicely downbeat performance giving us a Detroit who loves Miss Adelaide and will do anything for her except marry her, keep his promise to give up running crap games, telling the truth . . . . 

And as for Miss Adelaide . . . Suzy Donnelly makes her a star. We have seen her in plays in the past but here she takes the role of the nightclub singer by the scruff of the neck and nails it, with a lovely accent and showing off a classy voice in her big numbers, Adelaide’s Lament and her show tunes at The Hot Box club, A Bushel and a Peck and Take Back Your Mink as well as her Sue Me duet as she breaks up – again- with Nathan . . . ironically after he actually tells her the truth, for once.

Theirs is the comic love story, engaged for 14 years and “after all it is just too bad that a smart businessman like Nathan Detroit has to fall in love with his own fiancée!”.

The romantic one is between the inveterate gambler Sky Masterson and the saver of souls Sergeant Sarah Brown in charge of the Save a Soul mission at 409 W. 49th Street.

Benjamin, a Sutton Arts regular, is a fine Sky, good looking, with an easy charm and a fine voice he can carry the urbane Sky in some style. Sky is a man who will bet on anything but at heart is a gentleman, and not only that, a gentleman who falls for . . . well, if we are honest, his bet. He has one of the shows biggest numbers, Luck be a Lady Tonight and gives it some real wellie, but he can also do gentle with the lovely My Time of Day.


Aarron Armstrong-Craddock's Nathan gets advice on the facts of life, or at least the staying alive bit, from Carl Horton's Harry the Horse

Leah Fennell is a good foil, attractive and another decent voice which shows up well in her solos If I Were A Bell as well as in the duets with Sky, I’ll Know and I’ve Never Been in Love Before.

Their on-off relationship (no bets taken on how it all ends) brings a lovely song, More I Cannot Wish You,  beautifully sung by Paul Wescott as Sarah’s grandfather Arvide Abernathy as he tries to encourage her to give Sky a chance. Nicely done.

Speaking of Nicely, that brings in Richard Howell as Nicely-Nicely Johnson. I’m not too sure about the beard, more Boro Park, Brooklyn than Broadway, but Howell made up for it by his matter of fact  delivery of Nicely’s throwaway lines, his scurrying away from anything that hints of trouble and a great rendition of that other big number, Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat.

A mention here for the fine ensemble who give us the missionaries, gamblers, Cuban dancers and a lovely dance troupe, The Chickiechies at The Hot Box – bringing back fond memories of the Tiller Girls (ask grandad).

Not only was choreography good, we even had a fight scene in Havana, and crowd scenes never looked like . .  well a mob, the ensemble singing was excellent in the likes of Follow The Fold from the Mission band and chorus, and particularly, in the big numbers Luck be a Lady and, highlight of the night, Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat

All the result, no doubt, of long rehearsal, as I suspect, was the opening trio as Nicely, Benny Southstreet, a good support from Oliver Farrelly, and Tom Cooper as Rusty Charlie with Fugue for Tinhorns, three songs, different words, different sections . . . all at once and managed with aplomb.


A bit of glamour from The Chickiechies

Nathan and his guys were harmless hustlers but the game had attracted the heavies, such as Harry the Horse, played by Carl Horton, and from Chicago, Big Jule, played by Andrew Tomlinson, who had his own method of winning, involving, among other things, a John Roscoe – a gun to me and you.

Meanwhile keeping everything in order, and no doubt that included his set, was Mark Natrass as Lt Brannigan looking to break up the crap game, while threatening to break up the mission, as it was failing to attract enough – i.e. any - sinners, was Alison Odell as General Cartwright.

Co-directors Emily Armstrong and Dexter Whitehead have come up with another sparkling piece of first-class entertainment for all ages with great songs and music, fine dancing and leads and wonderful costumes under wardrobe mistress Phebe Jackson.

So, will Sarah find enough sinners to save her mission? Will Adelaide and Nathan finally tie the knot? Will Sarah soar up to the Sky? Will we be in or out of the EU on 1 November? To find out, except for the last bit where even Nathan and Sky won’t give you odds, get thee along to Sutton Arts Theatre.

I guarantee you will leave with a smile on your face and humming a tune. If not, get someone to check your pulse before it’s too late – as Damon Runyon put it "I long ago come to the conclusion that all life is 6 to 5 against." To 22-06-19

Roger Clarke


Damon Runyon, (1880-1946) was an American newspaper man who reported on sport, notably baseball and boxing for decades for various Hearst papers but he is best known for his wonderful short stories, two of which, The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure, with characters and moments from others, form the basis for Guys and Dolls.

His stories invent a whole subculture, and even a language, based around after hours Broadway at a time around prohibition, filled with characters with colourful names, all written in present tense and narrated by a guy that we never know anything about except he tells us he is someone “being known to one and all as a guy who is just around".

His stories have given us some 20 films including such as Little Miss Marker and The Lemon Drop Kid and if you have never read Runyan . . . you have missed a comedy treat. 

Sutton Arts Theatre

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