Guys and Dolls
The 23rd season at Stages St. Louis ends with a musical fireworks display, a big, lively, beautifully staged production of one of musical theater's all-time best, Guys and Dolls . This enduring fable of unlikely love among the denizens of New York's demi-monde is based, of course, on the stories of Damon Runyon, which are themselves love letters of a sortgentle (for the most part) and just slightly satirical fables about men and women for whom the law is just another obstacle in the way of getting along in the world.
Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows drew their characters and their plot from several of Runyon's stories, but the heart of their book is the romance between high-rolling Obadiah (Sky) Masterson and Sergeant Sarah Brown of the "Save-a-Soul Mission," a thinly disguised version of the Salvation Army. In most musicals, the secondary love story is just comic relief, but in this one, the on and off courtship of Miss Adelaide, the star of the revue at the Hot Box, by her fiancé of fourteen years, Nathan Detroitwho is also the proprietor of the celebrated "Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game In New York"is fully as important both thematically and dramatically.
True, Sky and Sarah get the romantic numbers, the exquisite "I've Never Been In Love Before," "I'll Know When My Love Comes Along" and Sarah's exuberant "If I Were a Bell." Adelaide, though, gets one of the iconic comic songs of the 20th century, and she and Nathan share the clever duet "Sue Me."
This show is also remarkable for the richness of the supporting cast. Fully eight of the characters have either solo or small ensemble singing roles, and the show's title song is given to two of Nathan's men, as are the boisterous and lovable "Fugue For Tinhorns," which sets the tone for the show, and "The Oldest Established," in which Nathan does have a part. One role especially is a built-in scene stealer: Nicely-Nicely Johnson, made unforgettable on Broadway by Stubby Kaye.
In fact, one of the many highlights of Stages's production is Nicely-Nicely's exuberant "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," performed here with dazzling agility and a bravura voice by the inimitable Edward Juvier and a brilliantly rehearsed ensemble. Another splendid moment is the scene in Havana between Sky and Sarah in which Kate Fischer absolutely nails both the movement and music of "If I Were a Bell." Edward Watts, as Sky, joins her to make "I've Never Been In Love Before" thoroughly charming.
Everything Julie Cardia does as Miss Adelaide is delightful, from her sniffling lament to her two up-tempo ensemble numbers with the Hot-Box Girls, but mix her comic genius with David Foley's high-powered reading of Nathan, and you get the production's best comic moment, the achingly funny and yet poignant "Sue Me."
Maybe the most memorable scene in this production, though, is the show's quietest moment, when Sarah's grandfather, Arvide Abernathyplayed with great affection by the immensely talented Stages veteran John Flacksings the reassuring "More I Cannot Wish You."
As is usual at Stages, there's not a seam in this production; from set and lights to costumes, from Michael Hamilton's musical direction to Dana Lewis' choreography, it's as slick as a whistle. The production is bursting with life and energy, with heart and talentaltogether a fitting capstone for the company's 23rd and most artistically successful season.
Guys and Dolls will run through October 4 at the Robert G. Reim Theater in Kirkwood; for tickets, call 314-821-2407 or visit www.stagesstlouis.org.