Musical review: Guys & Dolls, Chapel Off Chapel

The songs are the same, but this piece of musical theatre offers a cheeky modern twist.

Antipodes Theatre Company has been producing work in Melbourne since 2019. With a focus on developing new material, as well as presenting forgotten gems of the contemporary musical theatre canon, such as its brilliant production of Passing Strange last year, it has now turned its gaze way back in time to the Golden Age of Broadway with its current production of Guys & Dolls. However, this is certainly not your grandparents’ version of the Frank Loesser classic.

In keeping with the company’s ethos of creating work to celebrate marginalised voices and offer opportunities for a diverse range of performers, this Guys & Dolls is filtered through a slightly queer lens, playfully toys with notions of gender and defies audience expectations. Not one word of the almost 75-year-old musical has been changed and yet this production makes this somewhat dusty old show feel vibrant again. You’ve never seen Guys & Dolls like this before.

Featuring a talented cast of over 15 performers, many identifying as non-binary, the production is energetic and very funny. Led by Shannon Foley as gambling guru Nathan Detroit, Willow Sizer as his long-suffering fiancée Adelaide, Javon King as suave gambler Sky Masterson and Maddison Coleman as the feisty missionary Sarah Brown, the company celebrates and champions diversity while staying true to the source material. There are a few cheeky line-reads and winks to the audience here and there, but purists will still get the Guys & Dolls they love, while new audiences are guided into this world by seeing the wider community represented on stage; it’s a win-win for everyone.  

It’s easy to forget how enjoyable the score of Guys & Dolls is. This show is stacked with stone cold classics, such as ‘Adelaide’s Lament,’ ‘If I Were a Bell,’ ‘Luck Be a Lady’ and ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.’ Antipodes’ production really takes flight when it comes to the musical numbers. The seven-piece band, led by David Butler, sounds full and fabulous, and the vocal dexterity of the cast is next level.

King’s gorgeous vocals offer a throwback to another era and his performance of ‘Luck Be a Lady’ is a highlight. As Sarah, Coleman possesses a powerful instrument, easily switching between dreamy head voice and booming belt with breathtaking ease. Sizer brings a unique and electrifying vocal flavour to their performance as Adelaide. They have one of those voices that sounds like it comes from another world and is somewhat indescribable; it’s a voice you simply must experience live. When the performers aren’t singing is when we run into a few problems. The cast are full of energy and passion, but some performances feel a tad contrived and the old school New York accents are all over the place. A few sound issues during the first act on opening night didn’t help matters.

The small stage at Chapel Off Chapel is transformed into a semi-immersive Prohibition era speakeasy, with a couple of raised platforms, an onstage band, miles of draped velvet curtains and a small bar, as well as the stage of the Hot Box nightclub. Much of the cast remain on stage throughout the show and it all feels a bit chaotic and cramped. Sightlines are compromised, the lighting design becomes pedestrian as the creatives feel the need to light everyone on stage at once, and Carolyn Ooi’s dynamic choreography often gets lost in the mix. A more clean and cohesive design perhaps could have solved these issues.

Read: Opera review: La Gioconda in Concert, Sydney Opera House

Antipodes Theatre Company has bravely rolled the dice with this latest production of Guys & Dolls, and while it may not fully pay off, it’s certainly worth the gamble.

Guys & Dolls
Chapel Off Chapel

Antipodes Theatre Company
Music and Lyrics: Frank Loesser
Book: Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directors by Trudy Dunn and Brandon Pape

Musical Director: David Butler
Movement Director: Jonathan Homsey
Choreographer: Carolyn Ooi
Associate Director/Choreographer: Celena Yuen
Set and Costume Designer: Bianca Pardo
Associate Set Designer and Props Designer: Bridie Turner
Lighting Designer: Timothy Bonser
Sound Designer: Evan Drill

Cast: Bugs Baschera, Jahla Black, Maddison Coleman, Shannon Foley, Lachlan Hewson,
Scout Hook, Javon King, Michael Lindner, Brittany Morton, Joey Phyland, Conargh Punch,
Chad Rosete, Megan Scolyer-Gray, Rose Shannon-Duhigg, Willow Sizer, Kikki Temple, Angelo Vasilakakos

Tickets: $60-$70

Guys & Dolls will be performed until 19 August 2023.

Reuben Liversidge is based in Melbourne. He has trained in music theatre at the VCA, film and theatre at LaTrobe University, and currently works as Head Talent Agent for the Talent Company of Australia.