BWW Review: Village Theatre's GUYS & DOLLS Has the 'Numbers' but Not the 'Story'
There's a reason that Frank Loesser's "Guys & Dolls" has endured all these years and keeps coming back, it's a near perfect musical. It's fun and frothy with that rare breed of songs that all move the story along and tell a story of their own. But with these songs, and because of them, you need a love story that reads true, connections with everyone on stage, and storytelling in the staging and choreography as well as in the dialog and lyrics. And while the current production at Village Theatre has some numbers that worked and some wonderful performers, it lacked those three elements making the show a nice collection of performances with no spark or cohesion.
The story is simple, the show is not. The story is a bunch of 1920's gamblers trying to keep gambling. You have Nathan Detroit (Matt Wolfe), the guy who facilitates the best crap game in New York, but he can't seem to find the place to hold it this time. Meanwhile his longtime fiancé (14 years and counting) Miss Adelaide (Kate Jaeger), the lead singer and dancer at the Hot Box, just wants Nathan to finally settle down. But Nathan thinks he can raise the money for the spot by betting Sky Masterson (Dane Stokinger) that he can't convince the local mission leader Miss Sarah (Mallory King) to go with him to Havana. And thus, the chaos and sparks fly. Or, well, they should.
Director Billie Wildrick and choreographer Nikki Long have staged a good "show" but not a good "story". Songs that are conversations are sung not to each other but presentationally to the audience. Equally so, love songs have little to no connection with the intended partner nor do the scenes leading up to them have the requisite chemistry or flirting to make us think these people are actually falling in love. Even the seemingly simple "Adelaide's Lament", where she's figuring out that the reason she's always sick is that Nathan won't marry her, is undercut with confusion since, other than a few sneezes at the end, we never got the impression she's sick.
The choreography shows off what the dancers can do and contain the style of the era but, again, don't convey the message of the song. When the gamblers are trying to out do each other with which horse will win, the staging to have them near each other but not doing the same moves would help tell that tale. When Sarah is drunk in Havana and so wild that Sky has to rescue her, don't fill the stage with so many people that we lose Sarah and Sky. And other than the Hot Box numbers which are "numbers", it's weird to have everyone launching into the same dance moves at the same time. The Havana number was so in unison that it didn't feel like a dance club in Cuba but a dance recital in the burbs. The choreography can tell the story just as much as the words. Here, the only story it told was that these gamblers have all taken years of dance classes. All these things made this a very two-dimensional show.
The cast manages a few decent moments. King and Jaeger's "Marry the Man" worked as they were telling the story of that song. Similarly, the fight between Jaeger and Wolfe in "Sue Me" conveyed their relationship well. And Kyle Nicholas Anderson with the show stopping "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat" finally brought the energy of the show up to where it should have been all along, at 11. Beyond that, people sang well, people danced well, but people did not tell a story well, sapping the energy and spark from the production.
Maybe I'm spoiled from the near perfect touring production I saw so long ago that made me love this show, but with the lack of connection and storytelling, and an unnecessarily clunky set that just weighed down the scenes (why did they need that long staircase piece to keep moving back and forth?) this production just didn't bring the fire. And so, with my three-letter rating system I give Village Theatre's production of "Guys & Dolls" a "remember the audience isn't here so quit singing to us" MEH. What we had was a revue of Frank Loesser's songs, but without the story, it's not "Guys & Dolls".
"Guys & Dolls" performs at the Village Theatre in Issaquah through December 29th before moving to their Everett location running January 3rd through February 2nd. For tickets or information contact the Issaquah box office at 425-392-2202 or the Everett box office at 425-257-8600 or visit them online at www.villagetheatre.org.