Leeds List Review - John Burland

Whilst there may be the word “Amateur” in their title, LAOS (Leeds Amateur Operatic Society) is highly professional in all aspects of their productions and their current show, Guys and Dolls, would easily grace any West End Stage, such is the quality of the acting, singing and choreography.

This show has always been a popular one and was made into a film in the 1960’s starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.  It is set in New York, around Broadway and its neighbouring precincts, and features four principle characters.  Nathan Detroit is the leader of a gambling school and is busy trying to organise a crap (dice) game.  His fiancée is Adelaide, to whom he has been engaged for 14 years, but has still yet to name the day.  Into the City has arrived Sky Masterson, a professional gambler.  Nathan needs to acquire $1,000 to rent premises to play his crap game and he decides to lay a bet with Sky on something that he feels he is certain to win.  In the end, this turns out to be betting Sky that he cannot take “Sister Sarah”, the local Salvation Army Officer to dinner in Havana, Cuba.

The local mission Sarah runs is in trouble due to lack of numbers, and Sky, having learned this, promises to provide “12 genuine sinners” for her prayer meeting if she will have dinner with him.  She agrees but initially doesn’t realise where the venue is.  Sky has won the bet with Nathan, leaving Nathan unable to use his original gambling venue.  However, with Sarah away, he uses the Mission Hall instead.

Sky and Sarah have a wonderful time in Havana and under the influence of the drinks she has had, she falls in love with Sky.  They return to New York, Sky fulfils his part of the bargain by filling the Mission Hall with people for the meeting when the local Captain is visiting and all ends happily with Nathan eventually marrying Adelaide and Sky marrying Sarah.

In this show there are four spectacular principals, extremely well backed up by a highly talented and enthusiastic chorus. Outstanding in the role of Miss Adeline is Gemma Durkin, a superb performer, both for her acting and singing. I thought her renditions of "Bushel and a peck", "Take back your mink" and in particular the "Lament" were excellent and her New York accent was terrific. Nathan Detroit, the New York Gambler, is brilliantly played by Richard Billings and he and Gemma played off each other superbly. The role of Sky Masterson, a visiting gambler, is played by Joe Mellor. I thought his singing voice was superb, particularly in his performance of “Luck be a lady tonight” which was outstanding. Also nobody can wear a trilby with the insouciance of the way he does. Nicky Burrows is also another superb find, in this her first role with the Society, as Sister Sarah Brown who runs the local Salvation Army mission. She has an excellent theatrical background and won the Henry Gill Memorial Trophy for the most promising singer under 25 years at the Wharfedale Festival recently. I thought her singing in “I’ve never been in love before” & “If I were a bell” was brilliant. I particularly enjoyed the latter, which was performed as if she were slightly drunk, having consumed large quantities of milk heavily laced with Bacardi “as a preservative” at the bar in Havana,

Other supporting roles were Nathan Winn as Nicely Nicely Johnson, Paul Bamber as Benny Southstreet and Fraser Wilkinson as Rusty Charlie. These three combined well in the song “Fugue for tinhorns” where their harmonies were excellent. Nathan also led the number “Sit down you’re rocking the boat” in the second half, which was probably the highlight of the show and certainly received the longest and loudest applause from the audience.  The principals were all well supported by the excellent mixed chorus, which was strong both vocally and in its choreography. And it was the choreography, particularly from the males in the chorus playing the roles of the gamblers that was for me the highlight of the show. They were superb!

Also worthy of mention were the brilliant sets, from the New York Skyline to the underground sewers, these looked really great and deserve a special mention in this respect. Also requiring a plaudit is Jim Lunt the musical director. Jim does an excellent job in ensuring that the orchestra supplements the performers and never drowns them. Finally, congratulations to Louise Dennison the director for producing and choreographing such a wonderful and highly polished show.

This was an excellent production; and of a very high quality and standard. Musical theatre is certainly alive and well judging by this performance, and this is one show certainly not to be missed during its current run in Leeds.

John Burland

Love Leeds Radio Review  -  Sarah Sturdy

Guys and Dolls has delighted and entertained people for over fifty years. It is a classic musical with a wonderful story and a fabulous score by Frank Loesser. Songs from the show such as Luck be a Lady and Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat have become well known in their own right, perhaps made even more so by the 1955 film starring Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine.

The story centres around an illegal crap game run by Nathan Detroit; a crap game that floats from location to location in a bid to evade the law. Nathan struggles to find a suitable place to hold the latest night for his gambling friends and decides that making a wager with Sky Masterson will solve his problems. No musical would be complete without a love story and this bet soon turns into one, with Sky falling for missionary Sarah Brown and Nathan finally wedding his fiancé of fourteen years.

It has all the components for a wonderful night out, and LAOS most certainly did it absolute justice. Their six-piece jazz orchestra situated at the back of the stage behind a screen worked remarkably well, injecting vigour and energy into such a deserving score. The set too was impressive and the opening number was full of the anticipated excitement you want to feel when watching a musical. Everyone in the cast from chorus to leads committed fully to the production, and most important of all they clearly had great fun. They successfully created a space and a time that as an audience member you felt a part of, and there were some very good performances. In particular Richard Billings as Nathan and Gemma Durkin as Miss Adelaide gave confident and assured performances with strong vocals.

It is well directed, well choreographed, well staged and makes for a fantastic show, which will leave you skipping out the theatre and singing to yourself. It is hugely enjoyable, and it radiates such warmth and fondness for every character and all involved that it would be difficult not to feel charmed by it. It if were a bell, it would most definitely be ringing, singing and dinging.

Sarah Sturdy

Love Leeds Radio

Wharfedale Review  -  Val Pennett

Although Guys and Dolls was first produced in 1950 in New York, it has never been given by the  Leeds Society before. Based on short stories by Damon Runyon set in the heart of New York, characters come alive, combined with Frank Loesser’s brilliant score that gives Guys & Dolls classic originality.

Production is stylish and totally in keeping with the era with dancing and  movement from principals and chorus  a treat. Louise Denison, Director and Choreographer, again does a splendid job for the Society. The orchestra under the direction of Jim Lunt and set at the back of the stage, gave a wonderful jazzy interpretation of this lively score. Staging looked colourful, helped by excellent lighting. Scene changes were slick and unobtrusive. The ‘Guys’ dominate this show. Collectively and individually they are brilliant with songs like ‘Oldest Established’ and ‘Luck be a Lady’ which were boisterous and entertaining 

The story line is clever and involves crap games and gambling, Sky Masterson winning a bet that he couldn’t take a Mission girl to dinner in Havana. The rousing title song was outstanding, as well as the Havana scene plus ‘Bushell and  a Peck’ and ‘Take back your Mink’ with Adelaide and the girls. The cast excel, Joe Mellor as Sky has stage presence and a fabulous singing voice. Richard Billings is ideal as Nathan Detroit with a fine voice and comedy timing.  As Nathan’s frustrated ‘Doll’ Adelaide, Gemma Durkin shines. It’s a gem of a part with comedy lines to die for. All her musical numbers were sung with command  and vivacity. I just wished for less haste at times in her comedy timing.  Mission girl Sarah Brown is not an easy role to define, but after a shaky start with the song ‘I’ll Know’, Nicky Burrows took control and played  her part with ease. The duet ‘I’ve never been in love before’ with Sky was delightful.  Special  mention to Guys, Paul Bamber as Benny,  Nathan Winn as Nicely singing a superb ‘Rockin the Boat’ and Fraser Wilkinson as Rusty. Mike Porter as Big Jule, Terry Ford from Otley as Lt. Brannigan  and Richard Pascoe as Arvide were impressive.

Completing the principals cast were Dave Bigland, Winstan Robinson, Chris Speight and Christine Castle. This production was a wonderful, lively, brilliantly paced show. In 2015 LAOS will celebrate 125 years, a great achievement. The Society are to present ‘Sound of Music’ at the Leeds Grand Theatre in March 2013.

Val Pennett

WYTN Review  -  Neil Knipe

For various reasons, Guys and Dolls is a show quite close to my heart, so watching LAOS fast paced production was a pleasant trip down memory lane.  Admittedly, on revisiting, it’s clear that Guys and Dolls doesn’t always hold up.  The first act is a little over long, there’s a deck full of period specific jargon to riffle through and a few songs or moments feel like filler, having no narrative or character developing necessity. What Guys and Dolls is though, is a perfect pristine example of a classic 1950’s musical.  The kind of rose tinted look back evident in a lot of post war theatre.  Here the “Guys” are harmless, colourful chancers in search of fun instead of the crooked, alcoholic gambling addicts they would have been – sad dregs who would have been avoided at all costs.

No new life was particularly dealt into LAOS’s production but its approach felt traditional and honest and perfectly fitting for the source material.  Right from the opening, director (and choreographer) Louise Denison gave us a busy city street full of cops, show girls and boxers in training.  This busyness continued well into the first act and added a New York bustle to the environment.  Lovely brief unison moments of theatrical conventions impressed at the start but sadly became rarer throughout the night.  Denison obviously came out with her directorial guns blazing but it really would have been fantastic to see these great touches sustained throughout.

As the show continued it became evident that the majority of the supporting cast were outshining the majority of the main cast.  Nathan Winn as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Paul Bamber as Benny Southstreet made a divine double act.  My eyes were often drawn to Bamber on stage as he consistently seemed to be giving just that extra bit more than everyone else and Winn gave a very authentic version of Nicely-Nicely.  His performance felt truly 1930’s, seemly channelling everyone from Lou Costello to Curly Howard with a hint of Oliver Hardy for good measure and thankfully, his rendition of “Sit Down Your Rocking the Boat” was the show stopper it’s supposed to be. Then, tenacious and well considered roles came from characters you wouldn’t have expected.  Terry Ford (Lt Brannigan – and a dead ringer for Orson Welles), Christine Castle (General Cartwright) and Richard Pascoe (Arvide Abernaty) all perfectly performed their small roles.  Often in amateur theatre, it’s these roles where the barrel starts to get scraped - not so with LAOS.  With Dave Bigland as Harry the Horse and Mike Porter as Big Jule also contributing to the strong support, this production had great talent in its exhaustive cast list.

It’s not that the main cast of two couples weren’t very good, they were, it’s just with such a firm cast behind them performances didn’t always hit the mark as hard as one hoped for.  Both Joe Mellor and Richard Billings, as Sky Masterson and Nathan Detriot, conquered the musical numbers with ease and skill and both were more than competent in their roles.  It’s not that either stuck out negatively, there just seemed to be something small missing from both interpretations of the part.  Masterson didn’t seem masterful enough and Detriot was a little too desperate and weak, lacking the quick witted fire in his belly that kept him bouncing back and spinning several plates at once. There was one exception though – Gemma Durkin as Miss Adelaide.  Durkin struggled slightly in LAOS’s previous production, Chess, her voice at times breaking and wavering, despite being utterly beautiful in the numbers that didn’t require forcing the rock notes.  My heart sank when I saw she was playing Adelaide, I really wanted to hear those lovely tones float through the part of Sarah Brown.  However, from her first step onto the Playhouse stage to her last off it, Durkin stole the show with a performance that could only be described as pitch perfect.  The musical numbers had wonderful light and shade, alternating between delicately cute squeaking to big voice belting, and her clever characterisation had the perfect mix of dumb loveable doll to cunning ferocious female.  Like Winn’s Nicely-Nicely, Durkin channelled the best of black and white vintage comedy, showing an incredible ability to comedically contort her face, each facet seemly moving individually from the other.  Her performance greatly added to the overall high quality of the show.

Several comedic moments needed slight stronger direction, a slight change of inflection/intonation/pacing here and there would have worked wonders but every musical number was strong and satisfying. 

So, yet another performance from LAOS to make Leeds theatre proud and retain their title as the best amateurs in town ... This is where I should probably say something about gambling your money on a ticket or betting on a great night out.  The odds are favourable. 

Neil Knipe

Sue Garbutt - Website Feedback

Myself and my mum visited West Yorkshire Playhouse on Saturday 22nd to watch your matinee show of Guys n Dolls. Oh! how we enjoyed it and just wanted to pass our thanks and congrats onto the cast and everyone involved.
The singing, dancing and acting was outstanding and was just like a professional performance. After the show we managed to talk to 'Sky Masterson' and Nicely Nicely' to tell them how well they had done and it was lovely talking to them!! The parts could have been made for them they played them so well. Plus Joe is gorgeous!!!!
Thank you so much for providing us with a fantastic show that we will remember for a long time!
Sue Garbutt.

J Spence - Website Feedback

A great opening show. Very best wishes for the rest of the run. So good that it was mainly cast from within the society. One quick note, a few folks could do with looking up, the audience are mainly above you. Lots of pace and lots of class - you deserve full houses.