Ashley Zhangazha talks about starring in the all-black GUYS AND DOLLS

How does it feel to be part of the first all-black cast production of Guys and Dolls?
Very Cool! It feels really timely and the decision to relocate the action Uptown to Harlem is inspired.

For anyone who may not have seen the show before, what is the musical about?
Guys and Dolls is essentially about the collision of two very different and distinct worlds: The Church and The Street. On one side you have a group of gamblers who live the fast life and on the other you have a group of Salvation Army missionaries seeking to reform and heal sinners. We follow two love stories. One between Sarah, a mission doll and Sky Masterson, a gambler and commitment phobe who I play and the other between Adelaide and Nathan Detroit who have been engaged for 14 years. Nathan bets Sky $1000 that he can’t take Sarah to Havana for the night. The story unfolds from there…

Why do you think Guys and Dolls has remained such a well-loved production throughout time?
The music, man. THE MUSIC. Song after song is a winner. With this production there’s a real jazzy, bluesy feel that we are adding to the numbers. They are dynamite. It also has a genuinely fantastic book, which is very funny. The transitions from scene to song are so well-crafted throughout.

Press night is on Wednesday 6th December. How are you feeling about the upcoming performances? What has the atmosphere in the rehearsal room been like?
It’s a really unique challenge to work on a musical in the Royal Exchange space which is in the round. I worked there are a couple of years ago on ‘Hamlet’ with Maxine Peake and it is the most extraordinary space, it seats 700 but still feels intimate. Rehearsals have been great! We have a killer cast and there’s a real buzz in the room. Energy and pure joy.

The Talawa Theatre Company are known for their award-winning touring productions. What has it been like working with the company and were you familiar with their work before?
Talawa are a brilliant company and so forward-thinking. I’ve enjoyed much of their work over the years. King Lear with Don Warrington at the Exchange last year and Moon on a Rainbow Shawl at the National are particular highlights. Michael Buffong the director is great to work with, brilliantly open and collaborative.

What would you like to bring to the role of Sky Masterson?
Woah, there’s a question… Sky is great to play, the smoothness and suavity is fun to do but hopefully I can bring some depth and insight into what’s driving him underneath the assurance and slickness.

What Musical Theatre actors have inspired you over the years?
For me there’s no distinction. I think we’re all actors and song is just an extension of text. Clarke Peters, Clive Rowe, Imelda Staunton, Audra McDonald among many many others do it so damn well.

We are living in a time where films are often being turned into stage plays and musicals. If you had to choose one, what film would you like to see adapted to the stage?

‘Not quite my tempo’ – Oh the possibilities…

9. Why do you think people should come to see this production of Guys and Dolls?

This cast is just fire! So many great talents and it’s a chance to hear the music in a slightly different, exciting form and to engage with the story in a fresh way. Great choreography. Laughs. Book your ticket!

Thanks for having Tea With Wilma

Interview by Olivia Dowden