>GUYS & DOLLS by Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble

>reviewed by kenneth kwok

>date: 28 apr 1999
>time: 8pm
>venue: the dbs auditorium
>rating: **1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


Toy Factory Theatre Ensemble, responsible for such remarkable dramatic work as 'Purple' and 'Storm', disappoints in its first foray into musical theatre, surprisingly enough, not because of the musical aspect of the production - which featured strong harmonic vocals, particularly from the chorus, and some dazzling choreography by acclaimed craftsmen Richard Chia and Gani Abdul Karim - but rather, for just about everything else.

Technical problems were rife throughout the evening's performances with backstage conversation amongst the crew audible through the sound system (and the crew themselves sometimes visible on stage as well), feedback blasting out from microphones frequently and the music itself cutting off completely during one pivotal number. Although it was indeed worthy of Toy Factory to offer Singaporeans a different kind of musical theatre - there is only so much Andrew Lloyd Webber that one can take - the American setting of GUYS AND DOLLS (New York City, 1950's) also presented a host of its own problems. Obscure Americana references and even more obscure American slang are par for the course, but American accents performed with painfully varying degrees of success - some actors trying hard and failing, some not trying at all, and yet others trying for a while before simply giving up - really made one wonder whether attempts to totally capture the American flavour of GUYS AND DOLLS were truly necessary.

After all, the script was strong enough to stand on its own. Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows' classic story of "Bad Guy Meets Doll, Bad Guy Falls In Love And Turns Over A New Leaf, Doll And Guy Live Happily Ever After" was packed with punchy one-liners and some very catchy and rousing sing-a-long tunes, providing some interesting spins on the gender war along the way.

>>'Although bursting with great flash and colour, Goh's direction failed to draw strong acting performances from most of his cast'

Goh Boon Teck's direction, however, proved a little more dubious. Although bursting with great flash and colour, Goh's direction failed to draw strong acting performances from most of his cast and his decision to draw laughs from cheap gags centering on cross-dressers, Japanese tourists and sadomasochists bordered on the offensive. It is as if Goh did not trust the inherent humour of the script to whip the audience up - but the lacklustre response of the crowd to the first half of the production was probably due more to the actors' inability to exploit the potential of the script rather than anything else. Both Chia and Karim, playing incorrigible gamblers, although adequate actors with strong voices, hardly sparkled; there was never any sense of them actually letting themselves go and just enjoying the performance, the magic of the show.

Veteran actress, Tan Kheng Hua did provide some reprieve as the tight-laced missionary who learns to love, with a strong dramatic and comedic performance. Although her voice was not the most impressive of the four principals, her rendition of "If I Were A Bell", full of verve and energy, was a definite highlight of the evening. It was Emma Yong as cabaret singer Miss Adelaide, however, who stole the show. Her feisty performance, complete with Betty-Boop helium-voice, drew the most laughs from the crowd, as she shimmied and sashayed her way, feathers and all, into our hearts. She milked every comedic and dramatic opportunity from her role to great effect. The mark of a great performance is when it makes those of us watching it wish ourselves to be in the shoes of the actor, wish ourselves to have the opportunity to play such a juicy role. It says more about Yong's stunning ability than any preference on my part for women's clothing that I wanted to climb on stage and be Miss Adelaide of the Hot Box!

Tan and Yong's consistently strong performances, along with a more solid second half (which significantly was shorter, tighter and packed with more song and dance numbers than dialogue) went a long way to salvaging the production. The enthusiastic applause at the end of the show, as opposed to the awkward silence from the crowd at the interval, was an indication of this.

In the end, though GUYS AND DOLLS was far from a failure (kudos also for imaginative set and light designs, and some truly wonderful costumes), it perhaps proved ultimately to have been too ambitious a project for Toy Factory's virgin musical. A musical of this nature demanded a technical expertise from the cast and crew that was largely lacking and the company may have been better served by starting out with a production on a smaller scale.