Guys and Dolls is practically a perfect play (or rather musical) and it is also a rarity: a show from 1950 that needs no revisions in order to be produced today. This is no mean feat, when you consider how much Annie Get Your Gun, which opened four years earlier, was doctored in order to make it suitable for today's audiences. Kiss Me Kate, which opened two years before Guys and Dolls, is also in the process of major revisions to bring it back to Broadway. And Call Me Madam, which also opened in 1950, is practically un-revivable. Based on Daymon Runyon's short story, The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, with music by Frank Loesser, Guys and Dolls creates a timeless world, populated by cartoonish archetypes (the dizzy moll, the prim religious warrior, the gentleman gangster, etc.) who posses a humanity that transcends their respective types.
Unfortunately, in the production currently at Seattle's Fifth Avenue Theatre, there does not seem to be a sufficient level of trust that the original material works. The show has acquired a large number of bits and asides, that, in concept, should work, but which strangely fall flat in this production. Director Steven Beckler, who has been involved in scores of Broadway shows in non-directorial capacities and who directed the Las Vegas production of Guys and Dolls, recreates Jerry Zaks' staging of the recent revival. Having never seen the revival on Broadway nor on tour, I am not sure where the bits originated. A large portion of the problem may just be in the pacing of the show, which proceeds at almost breakneck speed, allowing little breathing room for a comic payoff.
And this is a shame, because otherwise it is a very good show. The set and costume designs perfectly complement the cartoonish aspects of the show (Lt. Brannigan is even decked out in a 'Dick Tracy'-esque yellow trenchcoat and hat). The choreography is by John Macinnis, who has staged the last two Radio City Christmas Spectaculars, and he does a wonderful job, especially with his staging of "Bushel and a Peck," which features a feathered-fan dance which is more inventive than a similar number in Fosse.
Guys and Dolls is also blessed with a strong cast. Gregory Harrison, recently seen on Broadway in Steel Pier, was a perfectly suave, charming and sexy Sky Masterson, and possesses an extremely emotional and effective voice. Watching him perform made me think that I would enjoy seeing him perform a solo show, ala James Naughton. He was well matched with Kim Lindsay, seen on Broadway in Titanic, Showboat and Les Miserables. Kim was an exceptionally strong voiced and vulnerable Sarah Brown, and gave a wonderfully free-spirited "If I were a Bell." She and Gregory had incredible chemistry together, and the two of them shone in an exceptionally affecting "I'll Know."
It is worth the price of admission just to see Barbara Passolt's Miss Adelaide. I had the pleasure of seeing Barbara play Lily Garland in On the Twentieth Century in Los Angeles last year where she impressed me with her soaring range and intensity. Her Adelaide is a sublime creation, and she effortlessly maneuvered the fine line between the comic stereotype that is usually played, and the heartbreaking vulnerability that gives Adelaide her realism. I would love to see her do the show again, with a Nathan who was more balanced both to her and to the show. Heck, I would love to see her on Broadway where she belongs.
Guys and Dolls also has a strong supporting cast. Bob Dorian, the host of AMC, was a delightful Arvide Abernathy, and gave an affecting "More I Can Not Wish You." He also managed to find every ounce of comedy in the part and displayed a sense of timing which few matched. Kevin Ligon, last seen on Broadway in 1776, brought down the house as Nicely-Nicely, with his high energy rendition of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." Another stand-out in a much smaller role was Crystal Dawn Munkers, a local actress/dancer who was featured in most of the numbers. She was the strongest, and most fun to watch, member of the ensemble. Get thee to Fosse!
Pacing problems and misfiring bits aside, this is a very strong production of one of the most enjoyable shows Broadway has ever produced. It is hard to see Guys and Dolls and not be entertained, and this production more than delivers.
Guys and Dolls plays at the Fifth Avenue Theatre until June 13.