"Guys And Dolls" Comes Out A Mid-Winter Winner At The Marriott!
Seriously, "Guys And Dolls" at the Marriott Theatre is great. It's just great. Great, great, great. No, it's not perfect. And it's definitely old school--there's definite dialogue sections, song sections, dance sections, just like the shows from the Golden Age were supposed to have. (And yeah, I didn't remember there being quite this much dialogue.) But what songs! And what dances! And it's hilarious, and it's heartwarming. The ending works (no small feat). And you should go see it (playing now through March 27, 2011, in north suburban Lincolnshire, Illinois).
Truth to tell, I didn't mind all the talking, as the stylized, non-vulgar speech rhythms of Damon Runyon's Times Square gamblers, nightclub girls and social-minded religious zealots of the post-WW II era speak a sort of American Shakespeare. No contractions, lots of topical references that whiz by (Ovaltine, Brooks Brothers, Roseland, Pimlico, Klein's), character tics that thoroughly embody inner emotional life--this is writing to a high degree, smartly realized and snappily delivered.
First time director-choreographer Matt Raftery has done a great job of weaving together comedy, theater dance, complex love ballads and a world that is no more (and maybe never was) into a night that will whisk you away to a New York you certainly would love to visit, even if you can't find it in any guide book (like the one in "West Side Story," "Wonderful Town" or "Avenue Q"). (I guess I should state for the record that the music and lyrics are by the immortal Frank Loesser ["The Most Happy Fella," "Baby, It's Cold Outside"] and the book is credited to Jo Swerling and the great Abe Burrows ["Can-Can"].)
The chief asset of this production is the Miss Adelaide of Jessie Mueller. Solidifying her position as Chicago's leading soubrette, Mueller is beyond superb in this iconic role. She captures the real woman beneath the ridiculous conceit of the character (engaged 14 years, with nothing but a psychosomatic head cold to show for it), and delivers the two "Hot Box" numbers realistically and professionally, with a great high mix singing voice. You don't want to miss her performance if you think that traditional musical comedy performance is on its way out. You are wrong.
The insider scoop of this production is that Mueller's sister, Abby Mueller, is the other female lead, Sergeant Sarah Brown of the Save-A-Soul Mission. (Has this ever been done in an Equity theater? Probably not, as the two characters are such opposites!) Weighed down with the dowdiest Mission uniform ever, and a mess of a wig, she is thoroughly believable (and sings beautifully) as a woman trying to reconcile how she can do some good in the world with how a handsome gambler makes her act and feel. The triumph of this production is that you believe it when she is the one who wins!
Roger Mueller, the proud father of the Mueller girls, is on hand as well, as Arvide Abernathy, the conscience of the Mission who is more streetwise than he initially lets on. Bravo to him as well! I am less enthusiastic about the Sky Masterson of Brian Hissong. While possessing a Brandoesque profile and acting style, his energy level seems a little low on steam in comparison to others on stage, and his singing is weak, though well-acted. Maybe he didn't bring his "A game" the night I was there. But I wasn't bored.
As Nathan Detroit, the hapless crap game operator who loves Adelaide but just can't commit to marriage just quite yet, Rod Thomas shows a side of himself that I haven't seen before. Usually cast as the handsome leading man, with perhaps a comic touch, here he is full-on hilarious, and barely has to sing at all. Young for the role (they all are, frankly), I found myself wondering if he were actually Luther Billis, when I always thought he was Emile de Becque.
Among the men of the ensemble, John Lister is a great representative of the Chicago mob as Big Jule, Rob Rahn does his best Godfather as Harry the Horse, and George Andrew Wolff is the happiest Nicely-Nicely Johnson you could possibly imagine. As for the ladies, Nicole Hren and Amanda Tanguay are superb as the Hot Box Girls, twin triple-threat chorines. In fact, everybody dances up a storm, and the few choral numbers sound solid and bright (musical direction by Ryan T. Nelson).
The costumes by Nancy Missimi, while more muted than some "G&D" productions I know of, include some witty suits for Adelaide and certainly capture the jaunty era of American cockiness and world domination. Thomas M. Ryan's scene designs are fun, setting the stage in Times Square and yet working with the properties design of Mollie Slattery to send us to Havana for an evening of sight seeing and bar hopping. And the lighting design of Diane Ferry Williams does some neat isolation tricks and sets the time and place wonderfully, without blinding the first row of Times Square theatergoers. Robert E. Gilmartin's sound design is a miracle--I caught every single word, and I was in the back row. And Jill Walmsley Zager provides great work as Dialect Consultant.
If you haven't seen "Guys And Dolls" before, this is as good a representation of this top-tier title as you are likely to see. And if you have seen it before, you will no doubt have a great time, as you know what's coming, but then it's odds-on better than you remember! With songs like "I'll Know," "Adelaide's Lament" and "Luck Be A Lady," the score is a winner, and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat" is the very definition of an "11:00 Song," even though here it arrives about 10:15. What a fun evening! The Mueller family triumphs, and we all benefit. And love conquers all! What a nice choice for a February musical.
Jessie Mueller (Adelaide), Abby Mueller (Sarah), Brian Hissong (Sky) and Rod Thomas (Nathan) star in "Guys And Dolls" at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive in Lincolnshire, currently running through March 27. For tickets, call the Marriott Theatre Box Office at 847.634.0200 or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com for more information.
Photo credit: Peter Coombs and the Marriott Theatre