Friday, 19 September 2014

Birthmonth Day Nineteen: Guys And Dolls

Seen here as Mary Poppins.

I longed to be a guitarist rock musician when I grew up, for no other reason than that’s what Marty McFly wanted to be so it must be the best thing to want to be.  I was obsessed with guitars for many years, seeing them as a symbol of greatness.  Characters I made up for games were always skilled guitarists, I drew cartoons who owned or were guitars, and if ever I met someone with a guitar I would have to touch it
and wonder if I should get them to teach me to play.  It was always The Intention to one day learn to play the guitar, despite having no musical abilities whatsoever.

It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realised that actually, I don’t like guitars very much.  I mean as instruments go, guitars aren’t very interesting or varied to listen to, I cannot stand electric guitar riffs, and I can’t name any piece of music I really like that relies heavily on guitars.  I love string instruments and the amazing sounds they can make, and guitars are probably the lowest of the low in that group.

The same pretty much goes for skateboards too.  Sorry, Marty.
I think I stood on one once and couldn’t make it go.  Then fell over.  End of dream.

So anyway, as you will have seen in the last couple of weeks, going to the theatre was very memorable for me as a kid.  So I hope other children get to experience this stuff.  It’s unique and it’s magical and it really stays with you.

And we got a lot of rubbish kids’ shows at The Theatre when I worked there.  But every now and then we got an absolutely brilliant show.  The kind of show I can only dream I could have seen when I was a kid.

And remember, I worked there for over three years.  So here is the huge list of great kids’ shows that came our way in that time:

1. Guys And Dolls (based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows/The Portsmouth Grammar School/30th November-2nd December 2006) – okay, technically not a kids' show as such, but performed by kids so it kinda counts (although considering some of the characters are strippers and several of the numbers are their nightclub show, you’ve got to wonder at the appropriateness of school children performing this).  This was the first time I had ever seen Guys And Dolls and it blew me away.  It is so funny.  I thought the kid playing Nathan Detroit (Alex Radcliffe) was particularly great.  You wouldn’t have known that this was a school production.

I had happened to recently read a book of random short stories and I now noticed that the one really good story had some similar character names to that musical, and after reading the words on the sign advertising the show (‘based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon’) I realised that Guys And Dolls is a musical based on the short stories of Damon Runyon. 
I loved the show so much that I wanted a Guys And Dolls soundtrack.  I decided on the one with Nathan Lane on it (I believe when he had to change his name for equity, he picked Nathan after Nathan Detroit, so it’s very cool he went on to play him) but was disappointed that the songs aren’t particularly funny after all.  It must have been the dialogue that was so witty.  Oh well, I got a book of Damon Runyon short stories instead and he’s brilliant.

2. Tweenies Live! – The Enchanted Toyshop (25th-26th May 2007) – I don’t much care for the Tweenies but this show was far above the usual ‘people in suits’ shows we got.  It was a quality production with impressive sets and costumes and a decent plot to hold it together and it engaged the audience (it really felt like your money’s worth), even if one of the heads did malfunction and cut up the actor’s face and caused the interval to drag on twice as long as it should. 
All I will say is that Jake’s family should take him away from that nursery because the other Tweenies are all horrible bullies.  (Sadly when the Tweenies came back, they had dumped the idea of having a plot and were therefore rubbish.)

3. Chuckle Brothers – Spooky Goings On (2nd June 2007) – I don’t particularly remember anything about the show now, but I do recall being really impressed by it at the time.  It was just really well made and the Chuckle Brothers are evidently very good and very funny entertainers and I really enjoyed the show as an adult so if I’d have been a kid it would have been totally awesome.  This show was far superior to the pantomimes our theatre put on.  I was really glad that the Chuckle Brothers were good, because I used to watch their TV show when I was a kid and I didn’t want that reality check.  Although I did basically run past them at stage door because I couldn’t deal with meeting someone off the TV of The Childhood.  They were still really good when they came back the next year too.

4. High School Musical (Songtime Theatre Arts/15th-19th July 2008) – another youth production, but you’d hardly know.  This was incredibly professional and about eight thousand times better than the film.  The actors were actually singing for a start, so the songs were made more stagey and less electronic and a lot of plot and character development had been added and all in all this was just a really energetic and fun romp.  The baddies even had their own themetune.  It was great.

5. Horrible Histories – Terrible Tudors and the Vile Victorians (written by Terry Deary, based on the best-selling books written by Terry Deary/The Birmingham Stage Company/13th-15th November 2008) – this was one of the best shows we ever got.  The basic premise was something like a band of travelling actors led by a guy called Dr Dee (who seemed to be some kind of vaudeville villain) were either trying to convince or be convinced by a woman to join them/let her join them.  So I guess the acting they did was various historical ‘lessons’ which involved a 3D screen, or was it time travel?  I mainly remember them scooping up poo.  Anyway, it was loads of fun and Dr Dee (Charles Davies) was just perfect.  I don't recall if he had a hat or a moustache, but let's just say he does in The Memory.  Ahem.

6. Sooty In Space (1st March 2009) – written by Matthew Corbett and starring his successor Richard Cadell, this was a proper Sooty show.  I didn’t really see how a puppet show could possibly work in a theatre, so I went in to watch this one from curiosity.  And there was this guy behind this little table in the middle of the stage, with the Sooty and Sweep and Sue puppets, just as small as you’d imagine and I thought, okay, this is not a theatre show.  So anyway, this show was so good it made me cry. 

 Shows what I know.

What are the best kids' shows you've seen?


  1. I tend to think of Guys & Dolls as something kids perform because of the Sgt. Bilko remake with Steve Martin, where his fiance is helping to put that show on with kids, BUT IT'S ALSO A PARALLEL OF HER RELATIONSHIP. I like that movie, shut up!

    Still baffled that High School Musical made for a pretty good live show. I guess it's how you do it.

    The Chuckle Brothers are inexhaustibly brilliant, and so is Sooty. It's nice to have your childhood validated: not everything you loved when you were little was secretly shit!

    1. What about the film? Marlon Brando isn't a kid. (He's really good in that.)

      The main thing I remember about High School Musical the stageshow is that it was overt that Sharpay's brother (Ryan, is it?) was gay, which got rid of the creepy incestuous stuff that plagues the film. Also cool that a kid's show performed by kids could have a gay character in it.

      Didn't you see Sooty recently and get mind-blown by his magic?


I look forward to your enthusiastic and loving comment.