Review: Guys and Dolls at the Royal Exchange Theatre

  • Relocated to Harlem, Frank Loesser’s classic musical about Broadway’s gamblers and dreamers gets an extra jazzy swing in its step and more grit to its characters
  • Northern Quota reporter Jess Stoddard reviews
  • ★★★★

After moving the classic musical up the road in New York, the musical gets a brand new soul. This version of Frank Loesser’s musical about the lives of New York gangsters their ‘dolls’ moves the action to Harlem in 1939. With an all-black cast and, this Talawa production has all the soul and edge this musical needs.

A sea of colour sets the show in the form of the gangsters’ colourful zoot suits. Nicely-Nicely Johnson stands tall in apple green, clever and highly respected gambler Sky Masterson’s suit matches his name and wears a blue suit with pride. Nathan Detroit shines in a purple three-piece suit as he searches for the all important venue for the floating craps game. With swing shoes, a good hat and a bit of swag, these men might not have much money or respectability, but you can’t deny they have style.

With a simple set designed by Soutra Gilmour, we are transferred to a street corner in Harlem. A manhole cover, a fire hydrant and smoke drifting up from below is all that’s required. With the use of a turnable stage, within seconds we are transported to the Save-a-Soul Mission where Sarah tries to convert the sinners of Harlem to good people; and then on to the Hot Box nightclub, where the soul and sassy Miss Adelaide (Lucy Vandi) belts out songs reminiscing her life and current love situation.

The difference between this cool production and the normal tap-dancing and happy-clappy productions is how the choreography and direction bring it to the present day. With a mix of wacking, voguing and classic jazz, the dancers really bring the show to life, choreographed by Kenrick ‘H20’ Sandy. 

A brand-new twist on a classic musical, but a needed twist. The soul and groove of this production is the missing piece to the musical. It completes the score (by Loesser) and the witty and the script gets a new lease of life (by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows). 

The dolls are wonderful, but the guys stole the show, applauding Danielle Kassarate as Angie the Ox for strutting her stuff as an honorary guy. Ashley Zhangazha brought a younger freshness to Sky, with the cheeky-chappy aura oozing. Ako Mitchell commanded the stage as Nicely-Nicely and his Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat was a gospel phenomenon. 

Until 3 February.