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San Francisco by Patrick Thomas

Guys and Dolls
Spreckels Performing Arts Center

Also see Patrick's review of Avenue Q and Richard's reviews of Smuin Ballet's Untamed Dance Series and The Whale

Ted Smith
Watching Guys and Dolls, the Frank Loesser musical currently being revived by the Spreckels Theatre Company, is like stepping into a time machine, transporting you back to the early 1950s, when gender roles were established by a male-dominated culture. You travel not only through time, but space, as well, entering a relatively thin slice of New York City, where gamblers try to avoid both the cops who want to jail them and the missionaries who want to save their souls.

Unfortunately, there are two reasons you don't want to take this trip. First, though nostalgia has its appeal, it's far better when the nostalgia is tempered with timeless themes. (Think South Pacific or The Music Man.) Here, sadly, the old-fashioned ideas on display don't reveal any universal truths, but instead merely celebrate outdated attitudes.

The second—and more important—reason to give this production a pass is that it's simply not very good. The score has several good songs ("Adelaide's Lament" "Luck Be a Lady" "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat"), and the book some colorful characters and snappy period dialogue. But it also has some very average tunes ("I'll Know," "Follow The Fold," "Marry the Man Today"), clunky lines and cardboard characters. Unfortunately, the cast, direction, staging and orchestra in this production only compound these problems.

Yes, if you decided to go, you might enjoy the performance of Denise Elia-Yen as Adelaide, the long-suffering fiancée of Nathan Detroit (Tim Setzer), the hustler trying to scrounge up a location for the "oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York." Her performance of "Adelaide's Lament" is easily the highlight of the evening, and her voice and comic acting skills are the best of anyone in the cast. Setzer seems to have a good time playing Detroit and his chemistry with Elia-Yen is the most natural and believable of any onstage pairing.

Beyond this, though, things go downhill. Anthony Martinez and Stephanie Dietz as high roller Sky Masterson and Sister Sarah Brown of the Save-a-Soul Mission are never able to make us believe they have any human connection at all, let alone a love-at-first-sight connection. Dietz's voice seems better suited to operetta than musical comedy, and Martinez does not summon up the dangerous charm a director needs from Sky Masterson. Though the rest of the cast exhibits some power as a chorus, individually, their acting is wooden and their comic timing often out of synch.

Once again, director Gene Abravaya uses a video projection system to supplement physical set pieces. Sometimes, as when the crap game decamps to an underground location, the projections work. But mainly, the technology is wasted because the imagery being projected is poorly designed. (The same goes for the signage placed around the stage, which looks like something out of a high school production.)

Though the cast is clearly putting out a sincere effort, the show never gains any traction. The dancing is lackluster, the acting wooden, and the orchestra muddy and too often off-pitch. This Guys and Dolls, sadly, comes up snake eyes.

Guys and Dolls runs through October 26, 2014, at the Codding Theater in the Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. Shows are Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. There is also a 7:30 p.m. show on Thursday, October 23. Tickets are $22-$26 and are available by calling the box office at 707-588-3400. Box office hours are 12-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. The box office is also open one hour before showtime. Additional information is available at

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Patrick Thomas

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