REVIEW 1; Guys and Dolls, New Theatre, Cardiff.
GUYS and Dolls is captivating from the moment the cast appear, playing clarinets and saxophones before a sparkling skyscraper backdrop.
The audience is thrown into the murky alleys of New York city, which are bustling with petty crooks, big time gangsters, hookers and pimps, as well as the Salvation Army and dolls.
It's highly absorbing to watch so many characters interact simultaneously onstage - pick-pocketing each other, offering a game of cards or being chased by a policeman brandishing a baton. Although much of the action is fast-paced, there is a pervasive playfulness and humour to the musical, directed by Peter Rowe. Even the mobsters, with names like Society Max, Liver Lips Louie and Harry The Horse, are quasi-heroic characters who have a lot of fun.
Gambling was illegal in New York state outside of New York city, so it was there that the punters flourished in the numbers racket with roulette, slot machines, dice, gin rummy and crap games as well as horse racing.
Nathan Detroit, who is excellently played by Ben Fox, is addicted to crap games. Much to the despair of his fiance Miss Adelaide (Rosie Jenkins), he wryly celebrates their 14th engagement anniversary because he has always prioritised lucrative opportunities over love.
The relationship between Sky Masterson and the Salvation Army's Sarah Brown, played convincingly by Robbie Scotcher and Laura Pitt-Pulford respectively, is equally compelling.
The rivalry between the guys and dolls becomes a tension-fraught battle of the sexes, as the dolls question if they will ever change their guys.
Miss Adelaide says dreamily: "I always thought Nathan would be so wonderful, if only he was different."
The versatility of the actors, who grab instruments among the orchestra and play music between action, is quite a marvel.
There was also plenty of enthusiastic knee tapping and clapping from the audience along to the songs, Luck Be A Lady and Stop Rocking The Boat. There are some genuinely very funny moments in this must-see musical which will have you gripped from beginning to end. * Guys and Dolls is at the New Theatre until tomorrow. Call 029 2087 8889 for tickets.
BY HELEN TURNER