Kelso audiences are Havana grand old time

Kelso Amateur Operatic Society performing "Guys and Dolls" at The Tait Hall in Kelso.'The Crapshooters.
Kelso Amateur Operatic Society performing "Guys and Dolls" at The Tait Hall in Kelso.'The Crapshooters.

LUCK be a Lady may be one of the best-known songs from Guys and Dolls, but the company of Kelso Amateur Operatic Society have made their own luck with this rousing version of Frank Loesser’s legendary show.

Make no mistake, the Kelso cast and crew had plenty of hard acts to follow. While Broadway and West End versions have featured such lumimaries of the stage in the starring roles as Walter Matthau, Nathan Lane, Patrick Swayze and Julie Covington, the 1955 big screen version boasted Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons.

Not to be outdone, however, the Kelso company has put its own stamp on this, only its second production of Guys and Dolls, and the months of hard work have paid off to give it another hit.

Last year’s production of Annie Get Your Gun was such a success, many in Tuesday’s first-night audience must have been wondering if the society could possibly top that.

But an almost full-house at the Tait Hall for the first in the six-show run were treated to a foot-stompin’ colourful riot of music and dance. Guys and Dolls has music and lyrics by Loesser and comes from the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.

It is based on “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure”, two short stories by the master of American crime fiction, Damon Runyon, and also borrows characters and plot elements from other Runyon stories, mainly “Pick the Winner.”

Premiering on Broadway in 1950, the show ran for 1,200 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and has had several Broadway revivals as well as West End productions.

The premise of the show is very simple – a high-rolling gambler, Sky Masterson (Bruce Munro Roberts) is challenged to take a cold female missionary, Sarah Brown (Pooee Pitman) to Havana.

But they fall for each other and the bet has a hidden motive – to finance a floating crap game run by Nathan Detroit (Tony Jackson).

The show is set in a Runyon-esque New York of the late 1940s, teeming with life from chorus girls and streetwalkers to cops, gamblers and hoodlums.

With ‘Annie’ last year, the cast had another opportunity to perfect their American accents and this year those talents are called upon again to great effect.

It always seems unfair to single out individuals for extra praise when productions such as this are every bit a team effort, right from the leading roles down to the folks serving teas in the interval.Every one of them has a role to play and it is that tremendous overall experience of a night at the musical theatre that they all contribute to that always makes Kelso such a deservedly popular date on the local opera circuit

However, in saying that, it would be remiss if mention were not made of some of the star turns in this year’s production.

Top of the pile has to be Christine Wight’s turn as the brassy showgirl, Miss Adelaide, who has been waiting 14 long years for boyfriend Nathan Detroit to make an honest woman of her.

Christine’s performance is right out of the top drawer of classic dizzy blondes in the style of 1950s squeaky-voiced screen siren Judy Holliday of Born Yesterday fame and Jean Hagen as the self-obsessed silent movie star Lina Lamont in Singing’ in the Rain.

What makes her performance all the more remarkable is that it follows a 20-year gap in performing for Christine, who previously sang with The Southern Light Opera and played such diverse roles as Pinocchio with Edinburgh Peoples Theatre.

She has taken the role of Miss Adelaide by the scruff off the neck and for more than two hours the audience cannot take its eyes off her whenever she is on stage.

But by no means playing second fiddle is Tony Jackson, a local motor engineer in Kelso, in the role of Detroit.

This is only Tony’s second year of stage experience, but you wouldn’t think so. His acting skills are his strength and he is always believeable in the part of Detroit, with a great nasal ‘Noo Yawk’ twang and spot-on comic timing.

Not to be outdone is Bruce Munro Roberts with a nicely-laconic turn a-la-Brando as Sky Masterson, who gets to let rip in the show-stopping Luck Be a Lady.

The fourth of the main character roles is that of goody two-shoes sinner-saver and missionary, Sgt Sarah Brown, played by Pooee Pitman.

Pooee’s turn last year in the lead role of Annie Get your Gun was as good as anything seen on the local Borders opera circuit for many years.

It was the perfect role for her naturally exuberant personality. For the part of Sarah Brown, however, a different direction was needed with Pooee having to play it more strait-laced.

But it is a fine performance, nicely understated as you would expect from a missionary worker, and giving Bruce the perfect foil for his role as the cool Masterson.

Backing up these four are some cracking supporting character roles, most notably Graham Addison’s double act as a wonderful Nicely-Nicely Johnson and gruff garage boss, Joey Biltmore.

Great accent, great singing and great dancing – what more could you ask from a performer in just his second outing with the society.

Graham’s version of Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, together with the rest of the cast, is a real highlight of the night.

Ben Campbell also deserves mention for his accomplished Kelso debut role as gambler Benny Southwest, together with Murray Potts (Harry the Horse), John Cove (Big Jule), Bill Hunter (Arvide Abernathy) and Margaret Campbell (General Cartwright).

With an orchestra on fine form under conductor John Mabon and directed by the hugely-experienced Catherine Fish, Kelso Opera’s Guys and Dolls is a sure-fire bet for success with audiences.