Guys and Dolls as presented by Jack Cunningham Productions
Guys and Dolls as presented by Jack Cunningham Productions
Date of Adjudicated Performance: Thursday, 7th September 2023
Sullivan Section - Caroline Daly Jones
On a beautiful September evening where the sun was shining gloriously down upon us all in Ireland, I had the opportunity to attend this fabulous Production of Guys and Dolls by Jack Cunningham Productions, which I am told sold out long before opening night. I now know why. This production was exceptional and flawless and if given the opportunity I most definitely would have returned a second night to watch the vision and magic that unfolded before me on this enchanting stage that is the Theatre Royal Waterford. The Principals, Ensemble, Backstage, and all who were involved in this production excelled.
Director Jack Cunningham, must have worked endless hours perfecting this production. This show was vibrant, joyous, funny, melodic and dramatic. Mr Cunningham brought the very best out of his cast in their movement, their vocals, the stage, the set, costumes, and characters. Every nuance of this script was directed down to the smallest of detail, and every single character was different, yet professional. His stage direction covered many areas, his use of the stage, the depth and levels of the sets, the portrayal of each and every character he broke down into the minutest of details and brought them to life. His use of on stage freezes and lighting changes just made it so easy for the audience to concentrate always on what was going on and each time a freeze was broken, it was instant back to life.
Mr Cunningham was also the Choreographer / Costumes. Considering the amount of choreography and detailed period costumes – this was not an easy combination and was a huge workload. I usually worry when I see someone taking on two let alone three roles – But in this instance it was near perfect. Mr Cunningham also partook in some of the dance numbers himself on stage. There is a life and a vibrancy to this young man’s passion, talent and drive and he shone in every area he had responsibility for, be it performing, directing, choreographing or costuming. No mean feat. Mr Cunningham’s, Direction, Choreography, Costumes and Dance routines were impeccably executed. There is little need for me to highlight any particular scene involving choreography as it was all simply near flawless. Incredible talent onstage with an immensely talented Choreographer in charge. Superb. However, just as I thought it couldn’t get any better, the end of show ‘Happy Ending Guys a and Dolls Reprise saw most, if not all of the cast perform a magnificent tap which simply blew me away.
The staging of show was perfectly executed. The sets were very clever and effective by EVERYEVENT and under the direction of Stage Managers Dara Jane O’Sullivan and Shey Taheny they were seamlessly moved between scenes- almost choreographed – maybe they actually were! I loved how each set was also moved by people in character and in costume, noting two things in particular – the set change into the Salvation Army’s office when the set was moved onstage and then turned twice clockwise in perfect time before being clicked into place right on cue. This was extremely effective and worked very well. As did the sewer lid downstage front where some of the characters disappeared into in order to make their way to the crap game.
The Musical Director was Ms. Emma Walsh. The show used backing tracks and although I much prefer the sound of a live orchestra, the quality and sound of the tracks was exemplary, so was the timings, and all credit must go to Track Operator Rachel Power. A huge responsibility and one that was absolutely flawless. Well Done. The Musical Direction of the Principal and Ensemble singing was super, very well done and your hard work was obvious when listening to the quality of the vocals onstage.
Lighting was excellent by Craig Cunningham. The colours and vibrancy on stage were very striking. The change in lighting combined with the set change for our first visit to see the Hot Box Girls and Adelaide perform in ‘ A Bushel And A Peck' was absolutely super. I also particularly liked the use of spot lights on Nathan and Adelaide in their duet “Sue Me”. I also want to make a special note of the spotlight shining down on Arvide when singing his song. A beautiful touch.
On Sound Mr David O’Grady was very effective. A really good balance between principals, ensemble and tracks allowed every word and note to be clearly heard. The sound was perfect and lifted the roof especially in the full ensemble numbers. Wonderful lighting and sound throughout this show. Well done.
Given all of the above the cast itself was absolutely fabulous. Each Character developed to its maximum potential.
Sarah Brown was played by Carrie Mullane. Ms Mullane had a beautiful voice and from her very first note my attention was drawn to her beautiful tone and large vocal range. I particularly enjoyed ' ‘I’ll Know” with Sky, ‘My Time of Day / I’ve Never Been In Love Before” and the magnificent ‘Marry The Man Today’ with Adelaide, and Sarah's solo ‘If I were a bell’. A lovely underplayed stage presence as sober Sarah but the contrast to drunk Sarah was superbly played and acted by Ms Mullane. A beautiful character and voice and acted well as mentioned especially in her various interactions with Sky Masterson played by Conor Lyons.
Mr Lyons, has a very impressionable stage physique and presence, and this part suited Mr Lyons very well both in his acting and his singing. He had very good timing, and his facial expressions in the more humorous parts of the show always brought a laugh from the audience. Mr Lyons, sang and acted the part very well. I did however feel sorry for him on the evening I attended that his mike stopped working towards the end of Act One and he had to rely on Sarah Browns ( Ms Mullane) mike for their duet. The love interest between Sky - Mr Lyons and Sarah- Ms Mullane was very realistic and these two actors work very well together with very good chemistry.
Jennifer White played the part of Ms Adelaide. Well oh my, did she arrive with a bang and blew me away with her singing, her dancing, acting, and overall her near flawless performance of Adelaide. What a talented showstopper this young lady is. From the moment she arrived on stage, I loved her. Ms White was the perfect Adelaide, with a voice like liquid gold, and her acting to match. A wonderful performance with her accent always on point both in her acting and singing. She always left me wanting to see more of her. Her singing was sublime, her acting of Ms Adelaide was funny, emotional, loving, and you could see what a beautiful person she was, and so totally in love with Nathan Detroit played by Jonathan Kelly. Ms White’s make- up, gorgeous wig and costumes were like something from a movie set. ‘A Bushel and a Peck’ and, Take Back Your Mink’ also with the Hot Box Girls was super. “Adelaide’s Second Lament” and “ Sue Me '' with Nathan and “Marry The Man Today” with Sarah Brown was singing and performing befitting of a world-wide stage such was each character in sync with each other. A powerhouse performance at every turn for Ms White.
Nathan Detroit was played by Jonathan Kelly. An immediate strong stage presence and a beautiful strong lyrical voice. I liked Mr Kelly's portrayal of Nathan Detroit . He sang the role beautifully and there was a lovely chemistry between himself and Adelaide. He really looked stressed about trying to find the 1000 dollars for the crap game – all the time. His anxiety was continuous but also never waned and was quite comical in places. Mr Kelly had great timing and excellent facial expression. I liked this character enormously. He came across as a kind soul who really loved Adelaide in a ‘ chancer’ sort of way !
Nicely Nicely was played by Fionnán Dunphy. I loved this guy and he got every ounce of comedy from this super role. Despite his comedy, Nicely (Mr Dunphy) came across as a leader and well respected in his group. His singing” Fugue for Tinhorns “with Benny played by Mark Rellis and Rusty played by Jack McGrath was a great introduction to his very likeable affable character and his acting and singing were both a treat. I loved the harmonies. Nicely had a lovely stage presence and great stagecraft and he knows his way around a stage. He was very likeable, but it was his timing that I was especially in awe of. He completely won me over in the scene “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat” when all the men turned up at the Prayer House of the Salvation Army.
I have to mention the number “The Oldest Established’ with Nathan, Nicely, Benny Rusty and the Crapshooters. A magnificent piece of theatre sung by a wonderful group of male singers.
Benny Southstreet, played by Mark Rellis was a very strong character with again a beautiful lyrical voice and worked very well with Nicely Nicely ( Fionnán Dunphy),and Nathan Detroit (Jonathan Kelly) throughout the show. I loved the duet “Guys and Dolls’ sung by Nathan and Benny. Superb harmonisation and totally in sync with one another as was these gentlemen’s performances throughout the show. The men in this show in their acting, singing and their dancing was a sight to behold throughout. A huge number of men in the Chorus, in dance and in parts - it can be a rarity these days - but not with Jack Sullivan Productions. A very talented bunch all very lithe on their feet particularly in the Chorus and dance numbers.
Big Julie played by Anne-Marie Collins was a force to be reckoned with on stage. A very clever change to the usual Big Julie. Ms Collins acted this part superbly. You could see she instilled fear in her crap game colleagues and this was vital in their urgency to actually arrange a crap game. This character worked. I loved Ms Collins' costumes and attention to detail again was excellent. Ms Collins was fearful, fearless, tall and elegant, and her character in this production actually became an important cog of the wheel in the latter parts of the show. As I have already mentioned, having a Glamourous Big Julie instead of a Male Big Julie worked perfectly. A lovely yet difficult part in a show with so much fun, however with Ms Collins this role worked and it suited her perfectly. Well done.
Harry the Horse and Arvide Abernathy were played by Joe Shanahan and Phil Erskine respectively . Both were very important parts in the production and played very well. The song “ More I Cannot Wish You” sung by Mr Erskine was sung melodically and beautifully and really showed care and empathy. Together with the beautiful lighting it was a memorable scene.
Finally Lt Branigan was played by Daren Malone and General Cartwright by Lynsey Penkert. I loved Mr Malone’s lithe tall stature for this part, and again costuming was spot on. Ms Penkert played her part very well, transitioning from stern General to full happy abandonment at the end. A very well played contrast which again didn’t go unnoticed .
The Chorus, well what can I say. Pure joy, energy, talent and a total joie de vivre. A more beautiful well-dressed immaculately groomed and talented chorus both male and female you would be very hard pressed to find. The quality of singing and dancing that filled every corner of the packed Theatre Royal auditorium, was simply awesome.
I have to add in conjunction with the above, so were all the wigs / hairstyles, makeup, tights, shoes, underwear and costume changes. A HUGE Bravo to Jack Cunningham again for Costume Design, and to Nomac Productions for Additional Costumes with a very special mention to two very talented ladies, Make Up Artist – Leah Cooley, and Hair Stylist – Annmarie Whitty. Hair Costumes and Makeup were absolutely one of the many highlights of this show. It was something to behold for an amateur society to do this and I will hold this memory in my mind for a very long time to come.
The dried ice throughout the show was a lovely touch and was very effective and created the atmosphere of smoggy New York. It was effective but not overpowering.
It is not often that I go and see a show and walk out with sore muscles from smiling so much. It is not often that I go and see a show trying to think what could I criticise and end up scratching my head. This was a show that ticked nearly every single box and as I have mentioned already it was as close to flawless as I have seen in recent times.
There was only one way this show could have been any better for me and that was by using a live orchestra. Certainly for an Amateur Society in Ireland it was very special.
Well done Jack Cunningham Productions on a show that I will remember for a long time.
Some photos kindly shared by the society to accompany the review:
Photographer: Colin Shanahan / Digicol