Review: GUYS AND DOLLS - A MUSICAL FABLE OF BROADWAY at SF Playhouse

Guys and Dolls continues through January 13th.

By: Dec. 06, 2023
Review: GUYS AND DOLLS - A MUSICAL FABLE OF BROADWAY at SF Playhouse
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Remember the days when hoods and gangsters sang, danced, clowned, and romanced their way through musical theatre and film? Co-founder and Artistic Director Bill English brings this seemingly innocuous musical to vivid life with his keen eye to illuminate the threat of extremism so present today. Certainly, we can admire Frank Loeser’s gorgeous score, Nicole Helfer’s stunning choreography and an incredibly talented ensemble cast, but slowly and assuredly, English has become one of the Bay Areas finest directors.

Review: GUYS AND DOLLS - A MUSICAL FABLE OF BROADWAY at SF Playhouse
Adelaide (Melissa WolfKlain) and Nathan Detroit (Joel Roster).​​​​​​

Premiering in 1950, Guys and Dolls was an instant smash with its larger-than-life characters of mugs and molls, the dual romances of two very different women and the men they try to land. Loeser’s score perfectly supports Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling’s book with both comedy and romance. The show delights in exposing the ironies and light side of gambling addicts, Christian missionaries, and “evil-looking sinners”.

English has elevated a masterpiece of classic American theatre, not an easy task. The dance numbers, especially the ‘Luck Be a Lady’ ballet are sensational, working the cast of 14 into seamless looks and eye-popping style. Nicole Helfer seems to keep getting better and better at her game. Combine that with Dave Dobrusky’s musical direction, Heather Kenyon’s lower East Side NYC landscapes, Katheen Qui’s period costuming, and York Kennedy’s smart lighting and you’ve got the bones of a hit show.

Review: GUYS AND DOLLS - A MUSICAL FABLE OF BROADWAY at SF Playhouse
Sister Sara (Abigail Espira Campbell) and Sky Masterson (David Toshiro Crane).

There are some fine featured performances: future star Chachi Delgado as Benny, and Jessica Coker (stand-in) as a gender-bended Nicely-Nicely. Musical numbers pop and sizzle: Adelaide’s “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Adelaide’s Lament”, Sister Sara’s “If I Were a Bell”, Sky’s “Luck Be a Lady” and Nicely-Nicely’s “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”.

The lead performances are strong across the board. The two mugs, Nathan Detroit (Joel Roster) and Sky Masterson (David Toshiro Crane) and their respective gals, Adelaide Melissa WolfKlain) and Sister Sara Abigail Espira Campbell) bring their characters to life adding a depth of emotion that rises above mere caricature. They’re all mired in polarities: Sara can’t love a gambler like Sky, Adelaide wants to reform Nathan into a white picket fence husband. It’s good versus evil, moralism versus sin. Here, love is the answer to a happy ending. English sees more, and true to his aesthetic brings the show to the present where polarization threatens to tear apart the fabric of society. Guys and Dolls is a great choice for an alternative Xmas fare.

Guys and Dolls continues through January 13th. For more information, please visit  sfplayhouse.org or by calling the box office at 415-677-9596.

Photo Credit: Jessica Palopoli



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