I'm a Melbourne based freelance journo. While I mostly concentrate on music, I'll write about anything else that grabs my fancy.
Guys and Dolls - the perfect musical comedy
Guys and Dolls - July 2014 Arts Centre Melbourne
Quite frankly, it's pretty pleasant just listening to Bobby Fox speak, so when he sings "I got the horse right here, the name is Paul Revere", it's downright thrilling. Fox is playing Nicely Nicely Johnson in a new production of Guys and Dolls, which kicks off for a short season at Arts Centre Melbourne this Saturday night.
For those who may not be familiar, Guys and Dolls, which premiered in 1950, revolves around a craps game in New York and a bet between Nathan Detroit, the game's organiser, and slick gambler Sky Masterson (played by Adam Murphy and Martin Crewes respectively). The premise is that Sky can't make the next woman he encounters fall in love with him. Sky accepts the wager and is then faced with a difficult challenge, given that the next woman he meets is a missionary, Miss Sarah Brown, played by celebrated actress Verity Hunt-Ballard (best known for her performance as Mary Poppins).
Guys and Dolls is a particularly beloved and time-honoured musical. So, how then does it feel treading in Nicely Nicely's well worn shoes? "I saw the movie version of it many, many years ago, so when I was offered the part I thought 'lovely'," Fox enthuses. "It's such a traditional show and a classic, well known part and the show has so many well known songs!"
There's also some responsibility that comes with playing Nicely Nicely. The line Fox sings are his character's first words and the show's opening line. Put another way, it's up to Fox to set the tone for the show. "Initially, I approached the role cynically," he reflects. "I thought that it could be coincidence or ironic that he was called that, because maybe he wasn't nice at all! … but it didn't work. After a week of trying, it occurred to me that it just wasn't right. He's called Nicely Nicely because that's what he is. So, my motto became 'choose happy' and instantly it felt better. I sing the first words in the show, so it's important – it creates an atmosphere and strikes a relationship with the audience straight away."
While being thoroughly respectful of the original musical, the producers of this reprisal have adapted it to reflect a contemporary audience. "The producers have stripped it right back – it's a raw production" Fox explains. "You can expect something very, very pacey. A lot of extraneous material has been removed. For example, there's little in the way of moving set, which means that the focus is really on the performance and the actors. Some of the scene change music and some of the non-essential scenes have been removed too. The quicker rhythm allows it to be very 2014 – it's a traditional show that's been brought into pace with now."
The fact too that the show emphasises the performances of the stellar cast is a source of delight for Fox. "It's a very character driven piece, which allows for great character performers. Take Adam Murphy, after watching him during rehearsals, I'd compare him to a cross between Kramer and Geoffrey Rush! I have a giant man crush and I wish I had longer to work with him – he's so theatrically clear!"
It's not the first time Fox has played a character from yesteryear. For example, he played Frankie Valli in the long running Aussie production of Jersey Boys and he's just released his debut album, The Fantastic Mr Fox, which is a collection of contemporary tracks, done with a swing. There's good reason for this. "I've been described as kind of having an old soul," he ponders. "I'm 31, but I've always looked a bit older and been a bit more mature. Say with the album, when I was offered the deal, I think what they had in mind was a young Frank Sinatra. That's what people see in me and what I bring to the table."
Guys and Dolls is based on two short stories by Damon Runyon, The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure and for those who haven't read them, they're unexpectedly funny - take lines like "[s]he is tall, and thin, and has a first class shape, and her hair is a light brown, going on blonde, and her eyes arc like I do not know what, except that they are one-hundred-per-cent eyes in every respect." … and the characters, with the exception of Miss Sarah Brown, are flawed. Is it true of the musical adaption? "Absolutely," Fox says emphatically. "Take Miss Sarah Brown, she isn't flawed, but she has to create one in herself for love. She lies to the police to save the person she's fallen in love with and his friends. So maybe love is her vice!"
and the show is traditional in its comic style – that set up and punchline, but it translates well, because it is so funny."
Originally, Fox is from Dublin, but moved out here in 2002, and the transition has been smooth! "I didn't even notice it in fact! Being in Australia is easy," he laughs. "The country is fantastic and the people are wonderful. I was 18 at the time and originally I was only coming out here for one year to dance. Before that, I had only ever done Irish dancing, so I wanted to learn other types. I'd been touring before that, so I had some cash in my pocket to pay for rent and a course. It was great, aside from the one day of flying, and the rest has been history, as they say. That seems like a very Irish answer doesn't it?" Fox puts on an even thicker Irish accent: "Ahhhh, it's been grand," he smiles.