BWW Reviews: TUTS’ GUYS AND DOLLS: An Unsure Bet

Houston's Theatre Under the Stars' (TUTS) season opens with an uninspiring production of Guys and Dolls plagued by lackluster performances by two of the show's leads.  However, gorgeous male harmonies and a brilliant performance by Jennifer Cody as Miss Adelaide elevate the production.

The classic American musical Guys and Dolls, which inspired the movie of the same name starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra, follows the exploits of a gang of gamblers in New York City.  Nathan Detroit needs $1,000 to secure a location for his craps game so he bets fellow gambler Sky Masterson he cannot get Missionary Sarah Brown to go with him to Cuba.  Meanwhile, Detroit attempts to ward off the persistent pleading of his fiancée of 14 years, Miss Adelaide, who works as a headliner at the "Hot Box".  Once the initial plot is set the story unfolds in a highly predictable manner.

Unfortunately former Miss America 1981, Susan Powell, is disappointing as the uptight Sarah Brown.  The majority of her acting comes across unconvincing beginning the show with an unemotional speech against the devil on a soap box all the way through to one of the worst portrayals of a crying spell I have seen on stage near the end of the show.  Her vocal performance is also frustrating with a distractingly overuse of vibrato, especially during "I'll Know".  However, Powell proves she has vocal chops during her duet "Marry the Man Today" when the vibrato was more controlled. 

Matt Merchant also falls short as Nathan Detroit lacking the spark or charisma you would expect from a leading man.  Merchant merely drifts through the show continuously out shined by the others in his scene.  It doesn't help Merchant's case that he plays opposite Cody who steals the entire show. 

Cody is best known for her role as Charlotte in Disney's The Princess and the Frog, but had a long run as Rumpleteazer in Cats on Broadway.  She also played the Shoemaker's Elf in the original Broadway cast of Shrek the Musical opposite her sister-in-law Sutton Foster.  Cody does not miss a beat as the feisty Miss Adelaide with a stage presence that radiates to every corner of the Hobby Center.  Every note and delivered line is perfection with unequaled spunk and energy.

Rounding out the leads is Joseph Mahowald (Broadway: The Pirate Queen, Jekyll and Hyde, Les Misérables) as Sky Masterson who last year shined in the National Tour of 9 To 5: The Musical and delivers an equally successful performance in Guys and Dolls.  Mahowald is charming to watch as he slyly woos Sarah and is as delightful to the ear.

One of the highlights of Guys and Dolls is the score's fantastic male harmonies which are beautifully delivered by the ensemble.  Other notable performances are delivered by Houston native Cameron J. Ross (National Tour: The Color Purple) who gives a charismatic performance as gambler Nicely-Nicely Johnson and leads the well know hit "Sit Down, You're Rockin'the Boat" with vocals as smooth as chocolate.  I also loved the performance of "More I Cannot Wish You" by Kevin Cooney (Broadway: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, BLW Goes Public) as Missionary Arvide Abernathy.

The costuming in Guys and Dolls is spot on masterfully nodding to the period while being vibrant and exciting on stage.  I loved the vivid array of colors used for the gambler's suits and the costumes used at the Hot Box. 

The set, however, perplexed me.  A large lit sign "Guys and Dolls" opens the show and then splits to frame the stage.  However with how the letters are split, the result is random lit up letters that do not spell or mean anything.  The pieces of the sign are then reconfigured to make up different scenes creating various combinations of a jumbled alphabet mess.  To make matters worse, many of the set pieces seem also to be inspired by letters adding to the visual confusion. 

Last season many shows at the Hobby Center had balance problems between the orchestra and the onstage vocals.  It was wonderful to hear this problem rectified with Guys and Dolls.  On opening night the audience was also allowed to be fully seated prior to the start of Act Two which was a constant frustration last season. 

All in all, Guys and Dolls is a production I would consider a gamble: You may be entertained for a few hours but in the end you'll probably leave unsatisfied knowing the House has won.

Guys and Dolls runs at the Hobby Center through Oct. 9, 2011.  Tickets (starting at $24) are available on-line at, by phone at (713) 558-TUTS (8887), outside the Houston area at (888) 558-3882, or in person at the Theatre Under The Stars Box Office, located at 800 Bagby at Walker, Monday-Friday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., and Saturday-Sunday 11 a.m.-4 p.m.  An audio described performance is available Sunday, October 9 at 2 p.m.; open captioning is available Sunday, October 9 at 7:30 p.m. 

Photo credit: Photo by ChristIan Brown, courtesy of Theatre Under The Stars.

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From This Author Kara Pohlkamp

Kara Pohlkamp’s love for musical theatre began when her father took her to see My Fair Lady in third grade. She believes musicals are so (read more...)