The libretto of Guys And Dolls is a collaboration of the team of Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Their characters are based on the New York stories of sports columnist and writer Damon Runyon, primarily his short story The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown. The result is a book that is undeniably funny, happily filled with the Runyonesque slang and snappy and eccentric characters that bring the show to life. Frank Loesser's well-written music and lyrics enhance the characters beautifully by matching the rhythms and slang of the script during more comic numbers. He fills the show with lovely, memorable ballads for the tender moments as well.
As the show opens, we are introduced to Nathan Detroit, a guy forever in search of his next illegal dice game, and his doll, Adelaide, a dancer in search of matrimony - and rightfully so, as she and Nathan been engaged for 14 years! Nathan is sure he can score big at the next crap game if he can only find a place to hold it. Once he finds a place, he needs $1,000 to get it. Enter high-roller Sky Masterson, a guy who claims that he can get any doll. So, Nathan makes him a $1,000 bet. A bet that he can't get the local Salvation Army Mission doll, Miss Sarah Brown. Sky takes the bet, and the show takes off. In the end he compromises his pride for her honor, and in the deal, he unexpectedly loses his heart.
For this production, the Maltz uses a cast of 14 and a live orchestra of five. The orchestrations by Jamie Schmidt make the most of the talent and size of the orchestra. Musical direction by Helen Gregory is intelligent, but for rushing the beginning of a couple of songs such as "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" to an uncomfortably rain pace. The set design by Michael Raiford is solid, with the personalized edge of a large illuminated arrow that weaves its way into many of the scenes. Lighting design by Marcia Madeira is particularly good in the underground "Luck Be A Lady" scene as overhead beams filter through faint wafting smoke. Costuming by Costume World is at its best in the Hot Box Girl numbers. The costumes for "A Bushel and a Peck" actually received laughs before the number began. The wonderful choreography matches the period, the characters and the costumes. Quite a hefty achievement! It allows the cast to show both technique and character in "Runyonland" and "Crap Shooter's Ballet," as well as the Hot Box Girls numbers.
Tia Speros is the quintessential Adelaide without being a caricature. Andrew Polk is not as strong as Nathan, missing some character edge, but as he is gifted with some of the best lines in the show it is barely noticeable. A lanky Michael Gruber is more glib than suave as Sky though still managing to be smooth. He sings "I've Never Been In Love Before" wonderfully. A young Allison Walla as Sarah has a beautiful and obviously well-trained voice in "I'll Know"; unfortunately she performs some scenes stiffly, her first scene as though she is reading from cue cards. As Sarah's father-figure, Arvide, Barry Tarallo is far too young in a role normally cast over 60, but sings "More I Cannot Wish You" with the loveliest of Irish Tenor voices.
Richard Ruiz deservedly steals the show as Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat. Ruiz delivers both his character and his singing voice loud and clear. He and Richard Vida as Benny Southstreet are a perfect comedic team throughout the show, shining both in dialogue and in musical numbers like "Guys & Dolls." By the time "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" appears, the audience is already smiling every time they walk on stage.
It has to be said. The talent on stage and off stage is definitely there. This is a very good show. But this show should not be done with only 14 cast members. The Maltz bothered to cast real character actors to do character roles, and then asked them to do double-duty as the dancing ensemble and play multiple parts. It weakens the audience acceptance of them as characters, and portrays the theatre as not being able to afford a larger cast. The audience expects and deserves a big cast for a big cast musical from a theatre of this caliber.
Guys And Dolls runs through March 5, 2006 at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. The theatre is located at 1001 Indiantown Rd and A1A in Jupiter, FL. Show times are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 PM, Saturday 8 PM, and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinee at 2 PM. Tickets can be purchased at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre Box Office, on line at www.jupitertheatre.org, or by phone at 561/575-3332 or 800/445-1666. The Maltz Jupiter Theatre is a 550-seat, nonprofit community-based Equity regional theatre belonging to the League of Resident Theatres.
* Indicates member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actor's and Stage Managers.