GUYS AND DOLLS is a sure bet at Connecticut Repertory Theatre through June 12
Guys and Dolls
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling & Abe Burrows
Directed by Vincent J. Cardinal
Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Summer Nutmeg Series
at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre in Storrs, CT through June 12
On May 21, 2011, it was predicted that the Rapture would occur, snatching the sanctified up to heaven and leaving the sinners here to suffer the wrath of God on Earth. Well, we all know how that worked out, and thank heaven for that. The saved would have missed out on a rapturous revival of Guys and Dolls currently kicking off Connecticut Repertory Theatre's Nutmeg Summer Series. As any fan of Damon Runyon's motley crew of gamblers, gangsters and womanizers will tell you, it is much more fun to spend an evening with a bunch of sinners. Relying on a straight-down-the-middle take on the Frank Loesser classic, CRT Artistic Director Vincent J. Cardinal delivers a quintessential Guys and Dolls. This may seem like a crime when the in-vogue thing is to tease out the darker tones in Golden Age Musicals, but for purists who like their musical theatre served without revisionist embellishments or extreme psychological makeovers, this production is the real deal.
The delights begin after a somewhat creaky-overture when the curtain lifts on Michael Anania's stunning set. A New York City skyline consisting of a multi-tiered, royal blue arrangement of girders, catwalks and a spiral staircase is everywhere framed by neon signs (beautifully lit by Al Crawford), instantly transporting us back to Manhattan in the late 1940s/early 1950s. Three ne'er-do-wells launch into the clever "Fugue for Tinhorns," debating over the merits of different horses and how they will place. From that moment on, we're out of the gate and off to the races with a colorful profusion of costumes (beautifully designed by Michiko Kitayama-Skinner), dynamic performances and, of course, one of the best scores in musical theatre.
Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, has rightly earned its spot in the Broadway musical pantheon. With laughs aplenty, romance and classic tunes like "Luck Be a Lady," "I've Never Been in Love Before" and "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," it would seem hard to muck up this show. However, 2009 saw a Broadway flop revival that tanked due to wooden performances. Director Cardinal has cast his show smartly with seasoned professionals alongside energetic fresh faces. By and large, the cast succeeds in slipping into their iconic parts.
Standing at the head of the pack are Ken Clark as Sky Masterson and Greg Webster as Nathan Detroit. Clark's playboy gambler finds just the right balance of the slick con artist and likeable romantic lead. He's got a terrific tenor and acquits his bad boy role beautifully. Webster's take on the sad sack Nathan Detroit is fun and touching when he finally succumbs to the pushy advances of his erstwhile fiancée Miss Adelaide. Played by Caitlin O'Brient, Miss Adelaide is the role generally voted most likely to steal the show right out from under all these criminals. While she does not completely make off with the show, O'Brient hits all the right notes and delivers all of Adelaide's classic laments with brio. Rounding out the romantic quartet is the charming Sarah Shenkkan. Possessing a lovely soprano, her Sarah Brown makes for a fine adversary for Sky. Although she lacks some of the requisite starch that the role requires at the beginning, her performance of "If I Were a Bell" showcased her comic skills nicely and her duet witH Clark on "I'll Know" was moving.
Any production of Guys and Dolls rises and falls by the quality of the guys. Not that the CRT dolls are slouches, especially the Hot Box Dancers' Act 2 tap extravaganza. But, the gamblers and other troublemakers get much more stage time than the ladies, and fortunately this cast has several standouts worthy of mention. Connor Moore, a recent graduate of the University of Miami, makes for a terrific loose-limbed, wise-cracking Benny. Joey Barreiro, playing the loud-mouthed Harry the Horse, makes up for his small stature with a giant serving of ham, a big mouth and whip-crack comic timing. Barreiro is towered over by the ominous Chicago gangster Big Jule, humorously rendered by Jack Fellows. Clyde Voce makes for an energetic and endearing Nicely-Nicely Johnson, but lacks the character's physical heft (he's referred to as "a fat water buffalo") and the big voice needed to send his 11 o'clock number "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" out into the stratosphere.
Of course, off-setting these packs of sinners are a few saints from Sister Sarah's Save A Soul Mission. David Alan Stern essays a sweet Brother Abernathy with what appears to be a Scottish brogue (and he would know better than most what accent is appropriate as a sought-after dialect coach). He delivers a heartfelt "More I Cannot Wish You" to the down-and-out Sarah, a sweet respite amidst all the razzle dazzle. Alix Paige makes the uptight General Cartwright a fun fussbudget.
Cassie Abate's choreography is on point and ranges from Latin to tap to traditional musical theatre movement. The sizable pit orchestra, under the Musical Direction of NDavid Williams, was not always sharp and at times was amplified to the point of overpowering the singers. That aside, this production is a two-and-a-half-hour trip into musical comedy's heyday. Due to the short run, audiences should not gamble with a chance of missing this production of Guys and Dolls.
Photo by Gerry Goodstein.