INTERVIEW: Michael Buffong on Guys and Dolls first all-black cast

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MICHAEL Buffong’s updated version of Guys and Dolls began this week with an all-black cast for the first time ever.

The musical is running at the Royal Exchange Theatre, brought to you by the Talawa Theatre Company, with the setting changed from New York to Harlem.

Buffong, 53, spoke to us about his inspiration for these changes: “The music. Setting this Guys and Dolls in Harlem means that we can infuse the production with the black music of that time.

“The jazz, the gospel and the blues sound which is so close to the original score and which grounds the characters in their context.”

Buffong also explains what they hope to achieve through these significant changes: “A departure from the tradition of playing this against as glitzy backdrop of theatre-land and 42nd street. We want to place it instead within a more relatable community or neighbourhood setting.

“The Talawa Theatre Company has been in existence for 30 years. We were founded in response to the lack of creative opportunities for black actors and creatives.”

The history of pre-war Harlem has also played a vital role in the musical’s creation: “We know that Harlem, by the late 1930s, was a real melting pot as black people from the agricultural South came to the urban and industrial North via the ‘underground railroad’.

“They brought with them music, cultural traditions and ways of understanding the world which created a very unique energy. The hustle was all about getting by, but it was also about creative energy.

“I think we achieved that with the story telling, the great blues, jazz music and gospel singing, and the fantastic choreography, which is such an inseparable part of this show.

“Put it this way, we’d love people to leave this version of Guys and Dolls thinking it was a night to end all nights at the theatre! That’s why it’s important.”

Guys and Dolls will be showing at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 27 January. Box Office: 0161 833 9833.

By Jamie Tichborne

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