Guys and Dolls: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly
Let's begin with the fact that Guys and Dolls has received a slew of unflattering reviews. We agree with the multitude of critics who are saying, in effect, that this is not a production worthy of the Broadway revival hall of fame. In fact, they are saying a good deal worse than that, but let's be fair. While this production is a disappointmentespecially in comparison to the last revival that was just about perfectthere are plenty of wonderful things in this Guys and Dolls.
Start with the score and the book. Frank Loesser wrote a brilliant score and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows wrote a funny book full of colorful language. Simply put, this is a hard show to ruin. Oh, you can damage it and lessen its appeal, but for Christ's sake, look at the song list: it's one great number after another! How many shows sport so many rightfully famous songs? In other words, even with four disappointing leads, the creative juice of the show, itself, ought to be enough to carry the audience joyfully back on to the street. More to the point, there was a young woman we happened to know sitting down the row from us. She was six years old when the last revival came to town. She was seeing a live production of Guys and Dolls for the very first time and, having nothing to compare it to, she loved it. Frankly, there is something to be said for allowing a new audience the chance to discover a classic Broadway show without putting them off with comparisons to earlier productions they cannot see [we're not talking about the comparison to the movie, which is another medium].
The strength of the current production is in its choreography and its core of dancers. Sergio Trujillo's choreography is vivid, exciting and full of a dynamic sense of humor. And his dancers get everything out of their scenes. The show may not compete very well in the Tony revival category, but the choreography should be a genuine contender. So, too, the dazzling costume design by Paul Tazewell. And in a cast that is largely disappointing, we'd like to single out one supporting player who was just about perfect: Steve Rosen as Benny Southstreet. Of course, any production of Guys and Dolls is going to be in trouble if the best performance in the show comes from the actor playing Benny, but give him credit for his pure musical comedy performance.
About the rest, Craig Bierko provides some charm and he sings well as Sky Masterson but he lacks style. Oliver Platt provides absolutely nothing; he's a big crater in the center of the production; he gets very little out of his great lines and his singing is pedestrian. Kate Jennings Grant as Sarah Brown is game but colorless, while Lauren Graham as Adelaide sings well, but her interpretation of the characterthough legitimaterobs her of the opportunity to fully milk the humor that's there. Mind you, she is probably the most successful of the four stars in making hay out of her role.
Director Des McAnuff's concept for Guys and Dolls was ill-conceived; from including Damon Runyon in the show as a bookend conceit, to the wildly distracting use of video projections to supposedly enhance the set design, little that was done to change the show improved it. Quite the contrary. Nonetheless, McAnuff couldn't kill it. Anyone who has never seen a live production of Guys and Dolls should probably catch this one because it's going to be a long time before another comes along.
Soul Samurai is silly fun
Without taking this too seriouslybecause, after all, neither does the creative team, itselfSoul Samurai down at Here is as entertaining as it is outlandishly nutty. Five brave actors, several of them playing a variety of roles, tell a futuristic kung-fu tale laced with the kind of language Damon Runyon might have used had he been a post-apocalyptic mid-21st century Gangsta. In fact, though this production is getting a lot of attention because of its considerable use of martial arts choreography, what's really sharp about this piece is its language. Mind you, we're not saying the book is great shakes, but the dialogue is pretty spiffy.
And what is the story? It's a convoluted revenge tale set in a gang-infested futuristic New York. It has everything from kung-fu lesbians to a Brooklyn-based rip-off of Yoda. The plot is not the appeal. But some of the other elements in this show worth noting are the set design by Nick Francone and the costume design by Sarah Laux and Jessica Wegener; both the set and the costume work give Soul Samurai the sense of excess that it requires. Boldly created by Qui Nguyen and stylishly directed by Robert Ross Parker, Soul Samarai features one particularly exciting and funny performance by Paco Tolson who, in our opinion, just about steals the show. Happily, it's a show worth stealing.