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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Guys and Dolls
Arizona Broadway Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule


Caelan Creaser and
Trisha Hart Ditsworth

Photo by Scott Samplin
Based on the short stories of Damon Runyon, and with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys and Dolls is a musical comedy classic full of numerous showstopping songs. It also has an abundance of charm, adorable characters, and a witty nature. Arizona Broadway Theatre presents a good production of this comic gem with sublime vocals that make each song soar, though there is a shortage of comedy in the production, and the somewhat uneven casting of the leads results in the "dolls" outshining the "guys."

Subtitled "A Musical Fable of Broadway" and set in New York City in the 1950s, the plot follows the adventures of numerous colorful characters, including a group of gangsters and the women in their lives. When the broke Nathan Detroit needs $1,000 for the deposit on the location for his upcoming crap game, he decides to bet the high roller Sky Masterson, who is known to bet on anything, that Sky won't be able to get a girl that Nathan chooses to go to dinner with him in Havana. Sky takes the bet, only to find that the girl Nathan picks is the pious leader of the local missionary, Sarah Brown, who is trying to save the souls of the gamblers in the "jungle of sin" of Times Square and who believes Sky's intentions aren't legitimate. Will Sarah warm to Sky? And what about Nathan's impatient fiancée of fourteen years, Miss Adelaide, who believes Nathan has given up gambling—will she find out the truth about Nathan?

Runyon's characters are brought vibrantly and humorously to life through Swerling and Burrows' charming book and Loesser's fantastic songs, which feature a score chock full of classic show tunes, including the romantic ballad "If I Were a Bell," the upbeat showstoppers "Luck Be a Lady" and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," and the witty and bright title song. The musical won the Tony Award for Best Musical and the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Director and choreographer Jim Christian keeps the pace brisk and the action and characters bright, though the fast pace shortchanges several comic bits and humorous lines, due to rushed delivery, along with actors almost stepping on others' lines, which doesn't give enough time for some of the jokes to land. Fortunately, the cast deliver lush vocals, and music director Mark 4Man derives a bright and breezy sound from the orchestra. Joseph C. Klug's set design is serviceable but a little sparse and lacking in the glitz and seediness of the Times Square environs of the show. Fortunately, Kathleen Trott's costume designs are colorful and creative and full of charm and humor, and Jesse Portillo's lighting works well in depicting the numerous locations and various times of day in the show. Amanda Gran's wig designs are period perfect.

Trisha Hart Ditsworth and Caelan Creaser are excellent as Sarah Brown and Miss Adelaide, respectively. Ditsworth's portrayal of the "all business" missionary is spot on and her exceptional vocal abilities deliver soaring and clear notes that are warm and bright. With superb comic timing and a refined sense of style, Creaser is a complete knock-out as Miss Adelaide. Her solo of "Adelaide's Lament" is well thought out and superbly sung. Sam Hartley and John Cardenas, as Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit, don't quite achieve the same exceptional level as Ditsworth and Creaser, though Hartley does well with the romantic banter he has with Ditsworth, and Cardenas is a charmer as the frantic Detroit and also has fun in his scenes with Creaser.
In the supporting cast, Matthew Mello does well with the showstopper "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," Doug Botnick is sweet and charming as Sarah's grandfather, and Tyler Pirrung projects the perfect sense of frantic frenzy as Benny Southstreet, one of Nathan's gambling buddies. Bob Downing is fun as Big Jule, a high roller who doesn't like to lose, and Chae Clearwood is assured yet humorous as General Cartwright, the leader of the missionary who threatens to shut down Sarah's location since they've failed to convert any sinners.
While Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of this classic musical comedy may be a bit too brisk to let the comic moments truly shine, the vocal abilities of the cast and the wonderful orchestra make it one of the best sung productions of this show I've seen.

Guys and Dolls, through May 26, 2019, at Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane, Peoria AZ. Tickets can be ordered at www.azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.

Direction and Choreography: Jim Christian
Music Direction: Mark 4Man
Scenic Design: Joseph C. Klug
Lighting Design: Jesse Portillo
Costume Design: Kathleen Trott
Wig Design: Amanda Gran
Sound Design: Connor Adams
Stage Manager: Leigh Treat
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake

Cast:
Sarah Brown: Trisha Hart Ditsworth
Sky Masterson: Sam Hartley
Miss Adelaide: Caelan Creaser
Nathan Detroit: John Cardenas
Nicely-Nicely Johnson: Matthew Mello
Big Jule: Bob Downing
Harry the Horse: Cody Cooley
Benny Southstreet: Tyler Pirrung
Arvide Abernathy: Doug Botnick
General Matilda B. Cartwright: Chae Clearwood
Lt. Brannigan: Olin Davidson
Angie the Ox: Daniel Stanley
Joey Biltmore: Nico DiPrimio
Hot Box Girls: Liz Fallon, Alyssa Ishihara, Anna Novak
Agatha: Kara Ziringer
Mimi: Christie Dabreau
Martha: Renee Kathleen Koher
Rusty Charlie: Taylor Wright
Calvin: Brody Wurr


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