17 April 2024

Guys and Dolls: A show of faith

Interview by Claire Brine

A photo of the cast performing in Guys and Dolls
Nicely-Nicely (Jonathan Andrew Hume) shares his dream | Photo credit: Borkowski Arts

Guys and Dolls actor Jonathan Andrew Hume speaks to War Cry's Claire Brine about the role of sin and salvation in the musical.

Forget rockin’ the boat, an immersive production of Guys and Dolls is rockin’ the theatre world. The Frank Loesser musical – in which the Save a Soul Mission seeks to convert a ragtag bunch of gamblers to Christianity – is currently playing at the Bridge Theatre in London.

‘When audiences step into the theatre, they can taste the New York pretzels,’ says Jonathan Andrew Hume, who plays gambler Nicely-Nicely Johnson, when we chat over the phone before an evening performance. ‘They can read the city’s newspapers. They can sit down at Mindy’s Restaurant on Broadway, or visit Adelaide’s Hot Box cabaret bar.

‘Without giving away any secrets, this is a show where the audience can literally follow the cast around the stage. In certain scenes, they are just centimetres away from the actors.

‘In the show’s opening number, there’s a moment when my character is reading the paper and talking about the bet he’s going to place on a horse – and I really do show the audience the newspaper page that I’m looking at. From start to finish, the whole production is a brilliant visual spectacle.’

First staged in 1950, Guys and Dolls tells the story of a city entrenched in sin and the band of Christians who try to lead it to salvation. Sarah Brown of the Save a Soul Mission – a movement based on The Salvation Army – urges the gamblers and drinkers she encounters to ‘follow the fold and stray no more’.

‘It’s about good versus bad,’ says Jonathan. ‘You’ve got gamblers and sin up against purity and redemption. But I think that the message at the heart of the show is that life isn’t as black and white as that. There are blotches on everyone’s lives. And, ultimately, the message of the story is that love wins over all.’

In a scene towards the end of the production, where some of the flaws of the leading characters are finally exposed, Jonathan is thrilled to have the opportunity to belt out one of the musical’s best-loved numbers. In ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’, Nicely-Nicely stands before his fellow gamblers and members of the Save a Soul Mission to recount a dream that he has had.

‘He talks about being on a boat and having his dice with him,’ explains Jonathan. ‘He wants to play craps with the other passengers, but then he realises that none of them want to dabble in sin – so they tell him to sit down and stop rocking the boat before they fall into the sea.

‘As the song goes on, I feel that Nicely-Nicely starts to listen to the words he’s singing and recognises that he needs to change his ways. He learns that the glory and the joy that he has been chasing in gambling can be found in following the right path. It’s a moment in the show in which everyone is encouraged to look at themselves.’

Two photos from a performance of Guys and Dolls
Left: The gamblers | Right: Sarah Brown played by Celinde Shoenmaker (photo credit: Manuel Harlan)

When the song comes to an end, Jonathan tells me, the audience are always up on their feet, clapping and dancing along with the cast.

‘Although I start off singing in a musical theatre style, the whole thing quickly moves into gospel – and the song ends up reaching this level where you feel like you are praising God in church,’ he says. ‘It’s such a joy to play, and an absolute pleasure to sing.’

Having grown up going to church with his family, Jonathan is no stranger to the Christian faith and feels comfortable talking about his relationship with God.

‘God plays a huge part in my life and my family’s life,’ he says. ‘I have a four-year-old son, and we talk about faith and pray together. I’m always trying to lead by example in everything I do.

‘Over the years, I guess I’ve learnt that people have flaws – but that’s OK because God doesn’t expect us to be perfect. We can always aspire to be better, but I think we need to go easy on ourselves for the times when we fail. Ultimately, my faith is about aspiring to goodness. If someone is watching what I’m doing, I’d like them to see God in my actions.’

Our conversation is drawing to a close – and Jonathan has a show ahead of him. He tells me that every day, before he goes on stage, he prays in his dressing room.

‘It’s about giving it all to God,’ he says. ‘I pray that the show will go well and that the audience is moved by what we are doing. I pray for the safety of the cast. I can’t control what happens on stage, but I find that the act of praying before the show comforts me, because I can rest safe in the knowledge that it’s in good hands.’

Interview by

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Claire Brine

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