Image: Matt Owen

“It’s big, bold, ambitious”: preview of MTW’s ‘Guys and Dolls’

As Term 2 drags on, we might all be feeling a little in need of a night off, and a distraction from rising piles of work. MTW is offering just the antidote to the end-of-February blues with its Week 8 production of Guys and Dolls.

This is a musical done the old-school way: “It’s big, bold, ambitious. We’ve got a big theatre to fill, a big band, big dance numbers, and the music is so so good.” In short, “it’s everything you want from a musical.”

For director Alessandra French, this show is the work of nearly a year. “I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, so to see it actually manifest is so exciting. And I feel ready. It started on a bus on the way home, a conversation we had after a few cocktails – first years with stars in our eyes.”

It’s big, bold, ambitious. We’ve got a big theatre to fill, a big band, big dance numbers, and the music is so so good

Alessandra French

It speaks well of the opportunities that Warwick drama offers, that a first year should be offered the freedom and the resources to stage a musical in such a large venue (the Arts Centre’s theatre). French frankly admits that “this is the biggest thing I’ve ever done.”

Alice Eve, playing lead role Adelaide, was French’s co-conspirator on the bus that day. “We were talking about what would work well on the theatre stage (last year the drama societies only had access to the Goose Nest), and what we as a society wanted to do. We were coming off the back of Rent and Spring Awakening, both of which are quite edgy, more modern musicals. And we thought, you know what would be really great? Something old school, classic, and…” Her point is completed with a huge musical theatre smile and fluttering jazz hands.

We thought, you know what would be really great? Something old school, classic

Alice Eve

French had a strong idea of what she wanted to achieve when she set out on the project, but couldn’t be more effusive about the talents of her cast. “You get everything ready and then you get to auditions and think, I don’t know who’s going to walk in. But the people who walked in were phenomenal. It’s always a collaborative process, people have such great things that they want to bring to it, and you encourage that.”

The affection works in both directions. Eve explains that “we’ve been very lucky to work with Alessandra because she’s been very clear that we have our own stamp on this. It’s exciting to take something that is quite traditional and well-recognised, and to be in an environment where we’re encouraged to look at it from a new angle.”

Matt Anderson, playing Eve’s love interest Nathan, agrees. “Personally – and this is really silly – I didn’t really know Guys and Dolls before we did this. Not knowing that much has helped because you’re not trying to be someone else, you’re not trapped by it.” Seeing as Nathan has previously been played by a name as iconic as Frank Sinatra, that might be a very good thing.

It’s always a collaborative process, people have such great things that they want to bring to it, and you encourage that.

Alessandra French

The chances are that, even if you’re not familiar with the story, you will recognise a couple of the songs. ‘Luck Be A Lady’ is from this musical, as is ‘Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat’. The story comes from the 1920s, but it was turned into a musical in the 50s, with all the accompanying Broadway – “idealised” – glamour that you might expect. Besides the set, which is “incredible”, the team seem most excited for the costumes. “The guys are going to look so good,” laughs Eve. “They’ll all be in their suits and hats, and we girls will all be in quite leggy glamorous outfits.” If nothing else, they are convinced of the productions’ visual credentials.

It is a behemoth operation, with 23 cast members alone. Then there are eight members of the core production team, plus everyone doing the marketing, set, tech, and an impressive-sized orchestra. But the spirit is one of collaboration and encouragement: “Everyone wants everyone else to do really well,” says Anderson.

It’s the kind of show, they believe, that everyone will enjoy. As French puts it, “you can bring your nan and it’s nothing you have to apologise for.” It’s “fun, and funny, and witty, and playful”, trying to be nothing other than feel good. Anderson hopes that it will “put a smile on your face”.

Eve is bursting with excitement: “You’ll come in and be wowed by the set and then you’ll hear the overture…” She trails off – come to the Arts Centre in Week 8 to find out just what happens next.

Guys and Dolls is at Warwick Arts Centre Wednesday 27 February – Saturday 2 March. You can buy tickets here.

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