THEATRE : By w. J. IGOE
GUYS AND DOLLS (Coliseum) MORM ALLY, I find criminals dis agreeable. I am not one of those kind-hearted persons who sign petitire's to absolve men who have committed the error of casually carving their landladies with meat axes and stowing the remains in Gladstone bags to be deposited at Euston. I even might consider hanging the "kindhearted" people.
But, stern moralist that I am: I have, I confess. a weakness for Damon Runyon's killers and criminals. Their world is as unnatural as a zoo; their morals are appropriate. Like Hogarth's London, their creator's Broadway is an underworld of gargoyles.
Nicely Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet, Harry the Horse and Angie the Ox are unlike anyone we have met here or in the United States. But then so are the poor in 17thand 18th-century novels and reportage. They are as alive and incredible as goblins. Amiable. amoral, kindly, cruel, committing the most heinous crimes or indulging impulses of chivalry most incredible, they are. I believe, more representative of the urban masses than we suspect.
Runyon was the Fielding of his day and city, and a better and more civilised artist than Fielding. who was a great moralising, canting bore. The New Yorker, being a journalist, with the limitations of the trade, dealt in miniatures. His people would have been at home among the demoralised urchins of post-Reformation London; they have the veracity of being, contemplated by an honourable artist and recreated with the humour and irony that arc fruits of charity.
TO make a musical pia) flow' Runyon's work was, as any native producer will tell you, a foolish experiment.
A couple of years ago. when 11 suggested in this column that among other British subjects adaptable to musical entertainment, are the works of Shakespeare and Chaucer, I received a kindly letter from a local maestro telling me the suggestion im plied my starry-eyed idealism, the public would not accept its Since then the Americans have given us Kiss Me Kate, adapted from The Taming of the Shrew, and the public loved it. Now, I hear, they are carving from Boswell's London Journal another musical comedy. Our own producers, save the mark, are still loitering on the beach at Nice or marching in Ruritania or blending both and boring us.
LIUYS and Dolls is delightful en
tertainment, composed from gay music, ingenious dance sequences, adult humour and wit, the elements we have come to expect in American musicals.
Each member of the cast, whether dancer, singer or comedian, plays a character and does not rely upon the ghastly facetious bounce we have come to expect from the native in light musical plays.
Two short stories have been blended to make the book. One embodies the deathless passion of Nathan Detroit, an impressario Of gambling, and Miss Adelaide, who sings and dances at the Hot Box on Broadway. This ever-loving couple have been engaged for 17 years and Adelaide is more than somewhat frustrated by the arrangement. She has told her mother that she is married; but her Romeo is reluctant to approach the altar.
Nathan is one of the more "legitimate" of Runyon's characters. He does not go in for violent crime. lie runs for a living, a floating "crap game," that is, a dice game which goes on perpetually in a variety of locales, garages, mission halls, saloons, anywhere Nathan and his minions can place it. The police do not take kindly to Nathan's profession; he is a man with much to suffer in love and labour.
The other story tells of Sky Mastermars a debonair gambler who involves himself with a mission doll, Miss Sarah Brown, and winds up playing the big drum in the mission band. ONE of my colleagues expressed uneasiness when confronted by the treatment of "religion" in Guys and Dolls. I cannot agree with his scruples. The "Save-a-Soul" mission, as depicted, is a fair representation of the Salvation Army and it was General Booth's aim to interpret religion to the people in terms of brass bands and vaudeville tunes. So the "Army" is presented in this show; and the reaction of the wandervogel of Broadway to its activities is comical and, one fears, accurate. There is nothing, in my opinion, offensive in Guys and Dolls.
On the other hand it offers stimulating entertainment Its characters are true to Runyon's vision; the music is gay and bitterly, comically satirical; the dancing is excellent.
1 recommend to producers the "crap-game" ballet, set in a sewer beneath Broadway, with its mordant comment on the ways of big cities, the culture of the under-dog and petty criminal, its altogether brilliant use of dancers and setting. This is the sort of thing the Americans do very well because they think about entertainment plan and execute it as professionals.
EVERY member of the cast of rGuys and Dolls works. Outstanding among them are Mr. Sam Levene, whose appearances in films have given me great pleasure in the past. and the lovely Miss Vivian Blaine.
Mr. Levene's cocky sharper, Nathan Detroit. innocent of wicked intent, justifying self in the argot of Runyon's gutter, a Broadway fox transformed in the end to a quiet domestic dog, is a charming characterisation.
Miss Blainc's Miss Adelaide, the good woman eternally wronged but with the good woman's ace eternally up her sleeve, singing of mink, colds in the head and marriage, is wonderfully funny and touching.
Mr. Stubby Kaye's rendering of "Sit Down. You're Rockin' the Boat" should also be mentioned. His Nicely-Nicely does much more than make a merely nice impression.