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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Fresh Bushel and A Peck of Originality Makes
5th Avenue's Guys and Dolls A High Roller

Guys and Dolls
Katherine Strohmaier) and the
Female Ensemble

Older musicals don't have to feel like museum pieces, and thanks to some dandy freshening by its artistic team, the 5th Avenue Theatre's Guys and Dolls is anything but a musty relic of the 1950s. This doesn't mean anything has been needlessly tampered with; The Frank Loesser music and lyrics are intact, as is the book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling. But, thanks to some dandy new orchestrations by veteran Seattle music man Bruce Monroe, the Loesser score sounds sprightlier than ever, especially as played by a big beautiful orchestra led by the accomplished Joel Fram. Seattle boy turned Broadway performer/choreographer Noah Racey has devised dazzling dance moments that help the show take flight while honoring the Michael Kidd model, and director Peter Rothstein has helped a largely local cast put their own branding on the classic Damon Runyon characters.

Like most post-Oklahoma! musicals, Guys and Dolls has at its core two pairs of lovers, the romantic couple of slick gambler Sky Masterson and reined-in Mission worker Sarah Brown, and the comic pair of nightclub star Miss Adelaide and sad-sack gambler Nathan Detroit. Can a high roller and a principled do-gooder sustain their romance? Can the long engaged chanteuse keep from becoming enraged at her elusive fiancÚ? And where in blazes is the big floating crap game going to take place? These questions were answered over half-a-century ago, and I won't spoil anything for younger audiences by just saying that the resolution is as happily ever after as they come.

Ideally cast as Sky and Sarah are two wonderful actors with possibly even more wonderful voices, Brandon O'Neill and Katherine Strohmaier. O'Neill is an electrically charged performer, who is right at home as Sky, and sings the role's big songs with richness and ease, particularly nailing "Luck Be A Lady." Strohmaier is simply perfect depicting Sarah's journey from uptight to uninhibited when she follows Sky to Havana and innocently imbibes in some native alcoholic beverages. Strohmaier's warm soprano partners perfectly with O'Neill's rich baritone on their love duets "I'll Know" and "I've Never Been in Love Before," and her comic chops are showcased in "If I Were A Bell" and even more deliciously when teamed with Billie Wildrick's Adelaide on "Marry the Man Today." Wildrick faces the challenge that Adelaide is a comic role so well known that there are few surprises to it or ways to make the jokes land with any real punch. What she does, and does well, is play Adelaide as honestly and with as much emotional depth as the role can withstand, making her lovable all over again. She leads the kitschy Hot-Box club numbers, "Bushel and A Peck" and "Take Back Your Mink," with a headliner's assurance and she is, by the way, what the guys in the story would refer to as "a real dish," as she struts in her naughtier attire. For some reason, Daniel C. Levine as her paramour Nathan Detroit gives an often forced, frantic edge to his character through much of the evening, though he acquits himself quite well in the "Sue Me" duet with Wildrick.

As the ancillary comic trio of Nicely Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet and Rusty Charlie, Todd Buonopane, Greg McCormick Allen and Allen Galli have been given some fun business at the top of each act where they break the fourth wall a bit to great comic effect. Buonopane, looking as if he may have been the late Stubby Kaye's heretofore unknown son, seems a bit reserved in his boisterous role, before nailing the capstone "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat" number. Clayton Corzatte is endearing and comic as Sarah's grandfather Arvide, and charmingly warbles the show's sweetest ballad, "More I Cannot Wish You," while Laura Kenny is a titanic treat as the imperious yet warmhearted General Cartwright. The rest of the large company embrace their comic roles with gusto, and the dancers highlighted in the "Havana" and "Crapshooters Ballet" numbers are all champs.

This Guys and Dolls earns special huzzahs on the technical end. Kate Sutton-Johnson's scenic design is masterful in every way, with delicious touches and nuances aplenty, and Tom Sturge's lighting design is one of the best in a distinguished career. Gregory A. Poplyk costumes the huge cast ideally, with plenty of color and glitz, yet a shade more realism than is the norm in productions of this classic.

Guys and Dolls runs through June 5th at the 5th Avenue Theatre in downtown Seattle. For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.


Photo: Chris Bennion



- David Edward Hughes



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