BWW Review: GUYS AND DOLLS at Austin Playhouse is Lighthearted Fun.
GUYS AND DOLLS is presented by Austin Playhouse as the final show of their 2016-2017 season. Directed by Don Toner and with musical direction by Susan Finnigan, this musical theatre gem tells the story of rolling the dice and taking a gamble on love. The musical, based on two short stories by Damon Runyon, originally premiered on Broadway in 1950 with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. It went on to win the Tony in 1950 for Best Musical and was later adapted into the 1955 film starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.
GUYS AND DOLLS follows the story of hustler, Nathan Detroit (Steve Shearer) and fellow gambler, Sky Masterson (Jarret Mallon) in 1950s New York City. Detroit is gearing up for his biggest craps game yet but needs to find a venue to host his big name players. With the authorities hot on his heels and his fiancée, Miss Adelaide (Boni Hester) constantly lamenting their 14-year engagement, this proves to be quite the challenge. In an attempt to secure some fast cash for a deposit, he bets notorious risk-taker, Masterson that he can't sweep the straight-laced missionary, Sarah Brown (Sarah Fleming Walker), off her feet and off to Havana. From the streets of Times Square to the cafes of Cuba, to the New York City sewers, this romantic comedy takes its characters on a wild romp that culminates in a foreseeable happy ending.
Austin Playhouse pulls out all the stops in regards to the show's timeless score. Susan Finnigan's pristine musical direction gives depth and liveliness to such famous songs as "Luck Be A Lady," and the titular "Guys and Dolls," while perfectly blending the melodious voices of the twenty-person cast. This, along with Don Toner's direction, provides many opportunities for eye-catching performances.
Boni Hester as the bubbly, long-suffering, Miss Adelaide, is brazen charm at its best while still maintaining the character's heart of gold. Ms. Hester's performances in numbers like "A Bushel and a Peck," and "Adelaide's Lament," are among the evening's strongest, showcasing her excellent comedic timing. Many of the talented featured actors also give enjoyable performances. Stand-outs include Connor Barr as Rusty Charlie, Bernadette Nason as Gen. Matilda B. Cartwright, and Michael Stuart as Chicago Gangster, Big Jules. The star of the night, however, is Scott Shipman as Nicely Nicely Johnson. Mr. Shipman's goofy, yet sincere portrayal of the small time gambler is a joy to witness. His loveable comedic antics are only matched by his equally impressive vocal skills as he serves up the evening's two best numbers "Guys and Dolls," (a duet with Kyle G. Stephens as Benny Southstreet) and "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat," with both songs being met with uproarious applause.
While a charming presentation overall, there seem to be consistent dips in energy throughout the two and half hour show with select moments, both comedic and heartfelt, feeling flat. Certain dance sequences choreographed by Danny Herman and Rocker Verastique (particularly during "Havana") also give the impression of being overly strenuous on the ensemble members who seem to struggle with the more complex combinations and lifts. While these missteps do not appear intentional, they did affect the overall flow of the show.
Set design by Mike Toner, although functional and pleasant in concept, does not meet its full potential. Detail lacked in the scenic backdrop, and the rudimentary design of the movable set did not match the level of professionalism found in the other elements of the production. Closer attention to detail in the scenic art would add much-needed depth and dimension, and greatly improve the quality of the design. Costumes by Diana Huckaby, however, delightfully encapsulate the production's fifties feel in the form of glamorous dresses, tear-away burlesque outfits and brightly patterned suits.
All in all, GUYS AND DOLLS is an entertaining evening of musical theatre fun. The production revisits and pays homage to the original story with heartfelt sincerity and humor. If you're in the mood for some feel-good entertainment, take a gamble on this lighthearted classic.
GUYS AND DOLLS plays at Austin Playhouse (ACC HIGHLAND SOUTH ENTRANCE-6001 AIRPORT BLVD) May 26th - June 25th, 2017. Thursdays - Saturdays at 8 pm. Sundays at 5 pm.
Approx. Running Time - Two hours. (One fifteen-minute intermission.)
Tickets - $42+ (Student and Senior discounts available)
For more information and to purchase tickets - Austin Playhouse Website