Regional Reviews: San Diego
Guys and Dolls is one of those musicals that works in spite of all of the elements that could conspire to make it out of date. The characters feel like real people, even though they're often exaggerated stereotypes operating in a fantasy world of glitter and glamor amid Times Square corruption and decay. It works so well that community and school theatre groups find it easy to stage. A leading lady with a nice soprano is required, but the other parts can be played by character performers (and, in fact, the show is rife with opportunities for character players to shine). The fact that a lot of troupes can do the show in a way makes it difficult for professional theatre companies to pull off. To make it work, they must do something that would stand out.
For The Old Globe and its producing partner, Sarasota, Florida's, Asolo Repertory Theatre, besides solid casting the stand out feature was to put a Broadway choreographer/director, Josh Rhodes, at the helm. Mr. Rhodes has shaped the characterizations and the musical performances so that cast members have a chance to excel without upsetting the ensemble effect. And that's tough to do.
For the uninitiated, Guys and Dolls is based on newspaperman Damon Runyon's fictional characters who inhabited the seedy side of Times Square. Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows' book focuses on Nathan Detroit (J. Bernard Calloway), a two-bit hustler who arranges places to hold illegal crap games for people who probably bet money made through shady means. Nathan's fiancée Miss Adelaide (Veronica J. Kuehn) has been patiently (well, sort of) waiting for the wedding bells to ring for fourteen years. In the meantime, she is the top-billed burlesque dancer at The Hot Box.
Nathan has dual problems: he's run out of safe places for the crap game, and Miss Adelaide is pressuring him for a wedding. To raise the money he believes will solve both problems, Nathan looks for a sucker bet to offer to professional gambler Sky Masterson (Terence Archie). Masterson eventually agrees to bet that he can romance the up-tight head of the local mission, Sarah Brown (Audrey Cardwell). To score points with Ms. Brown, Masterson promises to turn out at least a dozen "genuine sinners" to gin up the mission's hope of survival.
Frank Loesser's songs are classics of the genre, ranging from melodic ballads to showstoppers like "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." The Old Globe cast executes them with style and flair while not sending them over the top. Same goes for Mr. Rhodes' energetic dances, which require more discipline than acrobatic effort.
Mr. Archie and Mr. Calloway are both smooth-tongued charmers as Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit. Ms. Cardwell has that nice soprano and "gets" the tensions between romance and calling that define Sarah Brown's character. Aficionados of Miss Adelaide performances will delight in the well-considered touches Ms. Kuehn and Mr. Rhodes have incorporated into hers. Local favorites Linda Libby and Ralph Johnson make delightful (and overdue) Old Globe debuts as Sarah Brown's boss and father.
The production is mostly from one staged last fall in Sarasota. Lee Savage designed a handsome and utilitarian set, while Brian C. Hemesath did the varied costumes, Paul Miller the Times Square lighting, and Kevin Kennedy the clear and well-balanced sound. Sinai Tabak enthusiastically conducts a nine-piece band and provided additional arrangements.
It used to be that a musical was a success if you left the theatre humming some number from the score. You'll have many choices of what to hum from this smash hit version of Guys and Dolls.
Guys and Dolls, through August 13, 2017, nightly except Monday, with matinees on Saturday and Sunday, at the Old Globe's campus in San Diego's Balboa Park. Tickets are available by calling (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623] or by visiting www.theoldglobe.org .
Cast members not mentioned in the review are: Matt Bauman (Benny Southstreet), Todd Buonopane (Nicely-Nicely Johnson), Steve Greenstein (Big Jule), Ed Hollingsworth (Lt. Brannigan), with Chelsey Arce, Giovanni Bonaventura, Jonathan Brugioni, Richard Bulda, Juan Caballer, Lance Carter, Cody Davis, Richard Gatta, William Geary, Evan Kasprzak, Julie Kavanagh, Celeste Lanuza, Tara Shoemaker, Ala Tiatia (Ensemble).