Nick Adams, Craig Bierko, Tituss Burgess, Andrea Chamberlain, Raymond Del Barrio, Glenn Fleshler, Kearran Giovanni, Lauren Graham, Kate Jennings Grant, James Harkness, Lorin Latarro, Adam LeFevre, Joseph Medeiros, Spencer Moses, Jim Ortlieb, Rhea Patterson, Oliver Platt, Steve Rosen, Graham Rowat, Jessica Rush, William Ryall, Jennifer Savelli, John Selya, Brian Shepard, Mary Testa, Ron Todorowski, Jim Walton, Brooke Wendle
There’s an indomitable spirit that can’t quite be beaten out of a tried-and-true musical like Guys and Dolls, Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling, and Abe Burrows’s 1950 Broadway musical based on the stories of New York flaneur Damon Runyon, particularly The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown.
Up against the best recent revivals, Des McAnuff’s current Broadway production hardly matches the heights of Arthur Laurents’s latest Gypsy starring Patti LuPone or Bartlett Sher’s sumptuous South Pacific uptown at Lincoln Center Theater.
Still there are charms to be had in this old-fashioned musical comedy (perhaps the best-written of all time), even in the face of this production’s flaws.
The premise of the show should be familiar to many. Crap game coordinator Nathan Detroit has been engaged to his Hot Box dancer girlfriend Miss Adelaide for fourteen years as our story begins.
He’s trying to drum up the money to fund the rental of a garage for his game, and in doing so bets hotshot gambler Sky Masterson that he can’t take local missionary Sarah Brown to Havana with him the following day.
Along the way, there are memorable tunes, including Adelaide’s Lament, Guys And Dolls, If I Were A Bell, and Luck Be A Lady. Impressive new vocal arrangements for this production are by Ted Sperling, whose arrangement of Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat gives the song a new heightened gospel feel.
McAnuff’s directorial concept for the production takes some liberties with the original material. The setting is transferred from 1950, when the show was written, to the 1930s, when Runyon was writing the stories that provide its basis. In the opening Runyonland dance sequence, Damon Runyon himself is established as an unnecessary on-stage presence, recurring throughout the production without adding much of anything new to the show.
Also confounding are Olvier Platt and Lauren Graham in the leading roles of Nathan and Adelaide respectively. Each has strengths; Platt’s got comic timing and Graham has a sweet singing voice, but neither has a personality quite big enough to fill his or her character’s oversized musical comedy shoes.
Faring far better are Craig Bierko as Sky and Kate Jennings Grant as Sarah. Both have sweet voices and va-va-voom chemistry. I couldn’t keep my eyes off either of them during their characters’ brief interlude in Havana, even amidst Sergio Trujillo’s sharp, energetic choreography, which is some of the best on Broadway.
Elaborate scenic projections by Dustin O’Neill are unimpressively blurry and unnecessary, though Robert Brill’s massive sets, mostly made up of marquee signage, suit the big Broadway feel of this production. In taking a cinematic approach to the material, director McAnuff has made a mistake: he’s trusted his designers more so than his actors, who are dwarfed by the frenetic pace of the projections. The text should speak for itself. It’s good enough to begin with.
Still, what’s on-stage at the Nederlander is far from a bust. McAnuff’s direction could hardly be called static, and there are excellent supporting turns to admire from Tituss Burgess, Mary Testa, and Jim Ortlieb, amongst others. Though a few of its current leads might stick out from the crowd, it’s a testament to Guys and Dolls as a classic musical, that the writing withstands any mishandling. One could certainly have hoped for a better production, but this one’s still got a bushel on many a modern Broadway show, even nearly 60 years on.