Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Chicago

Guys and Dolls
Drury Lane Theatre
Review by Christine Malcom

The Cast
Photo by Brett Beiner
In its first production of the 2024/2025 season, Drury Lane Theatre is staging Guys and Dolls. Director/choreographer Dan Knechtges leans into all possible avenues for comedy in the show (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, based on Damon Runyon's story and characters), and the result is a sharp, dazzling, joyous production.

Angela Weber Miller's scenic design suggests a New York ripped from the funny pages. The upstage wall during the street scenes is an impressionistic skyline on a tilt, with vintage billboards and storefronts sketched in bold, black lines. The set for the Mission echoes this skewed, angular geometry, whereas the Hot Box (and ultimately the absolutely spectacular set for the craps game in the sewer) are all exaggerated curves. It's a terrific wink and a nod to suggest the tension between the upright and the wicked, one of the many delightful battles that enliven the show.

The color choices in the lighting design by Lee Fiskness pick up another of these sparring matches. Both the main proscenium and the faux proscenium that comprises the Hot Box set are studded with tiny lights. Fiskness playfully employs pink and blue in a variety of shades to track which of the titular parties is winning the day during any particular number. It could be an overly simplistic, on-the-nose technique, yet it's anything but in practice.

Leon Dobkowski's costume design pulls another comedic thread, suggesting both comic books and early giants of comedy in the men's loud, patterned suits and the unexpected color choices, as well as stylistic variety, in their hats. Dobkowski's design for every single element of Miss Adelaide's costumes and those of her back-up dancers deserves nothing less than a chef's kiss.

In his director's note in the program, Knechtges speaks of his love for the show's dialogue. This reverence comes through in the direction, as well as choreography. Nathan and Adelaide's vaudeville rhythms are impeccable, and the members of the Mission have license to seek out every beat of humor–be it sill, gentle, or something in between–there is to find. Similarly, though Knechtges is clearly and rightfully proud of the skill of both the main cast and the ensemble, all the big dance numbers balance dazzling feats with well-done physical humor.

Supporting a cast of strong singers is terrific music, as well (Roberta Duchak and Chris Sargent are co-music directors, with arrangements by Carey Deadman). Just seven musicians take us from the streets to the Mission to the club and all the way to Havana, and the sound is always full and energetic with particularly great trumpet (Carey Deadman) and baritone sax (Matt Wifler).

The cast is bursting with talent, charm and charisma. Alanna Lovely offers a brilliant Miss Adelaide. Her voice is both powerful and sweet. In her physicality, she captures the idea that Adelaide is starting to feel her age (and, of course, has been suffering a twelve-year cold) but has not lost a step in terms of turning heads. Lovely is not in the least afraid to play up the role's daffy quality, yet her Adelaide is warm and intelligent, too, which shines through in some unexpectedly affecting moments with both Sky (Pepe Nufrio) and Sarah (Erica Stephan).

Opposite Lovely, Jackson Evans also makes Nathan Detroit his own. In "Sue Me," his singing mirrors Lovely's in an intriguing way, leaning into the gruff parts that are nearly recitative, even as he lets the sweetness and vulnerability of his voice come through. He, too, has tremendous facility with comedy, yet he is also believably almost fatherly to the rest of the guys and sweetly defensive of his love for Adeline when Sky scoffs at him for falling victim to some doll.

Pepe Nufrio is a marvelous Sky Masterson. His charisma gives him leave to play the character with considerable depth and introspection. His work in the Havana scenes is absolutely compelling. As Erica Stephan earns the way Sarah cuts loose in "If I Were a Bell," Nufrio plays Sky as superficially passive yet clearly unnerved at the realization, perhaps for the first time, that his cavalier wagers have very human consequences.

For her part, Stephan lays the groundwork for a more complicated Sister Sarah than most productions have. Even as she shows off her virtuoso classical voice in "I"ll Know," she inserts something a bit low down and dirty every once in a while, so there's a through-line from Sarah at the Mission to Sarah in Havana. Her performance, along with Lovely's, goes a long way to remedying what can be some fairly unsavory gendered interactions, without the production requiring the kind of more overt updates to older shows that so often go wrong.

I'm not sure there's high enough praise for Nkrumah Gatling's (Nicely-Nicely Johnson) rendition of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," which certainly brought the house down. Gatling and Christopher Llewyn Ramirez (Benny Southstreet) are a riot together and their voices blend beautifully.

In the supporting cast, KC McNeil (Big Jule) and Heidi Kettering (General Cartwright) are standouts in providing the broadest humor with flair. Jordan Anthony Arredondo is a charming, menacing Harry the Horse, and as Arvide, Gene Weygandt is warm and genuine, yet still hilarious.

Guys and Dolls runs through June 9, 2024, at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace IL. For tickets and information, please visit or call 630-530-0111.