Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
Guys and Dolls
Based on several Damon Runyon short stories, the book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling captures the New York post-Prohibition underlife world of petty gangsters, gamblers, and con men, as well as the missionary efforts of those who aimed to reform them. Nathan Detroit (Ariel Zuckerman) runs the "oldest, established, permanent floating crap game in New York," but he's having trouble finding the right spot for it, owing to police crackdowns and a lack of funds. His cronies Nicely Nicely (Randy Nazarian) and Benny (Brett Mollard) lend a hand, fending off police lieutenant Brannigan (Levi Sterling) and gun-toting Chicago gangsters (Benjamin Donner and Carl Kraines).
Nathan also has to mollify his "doll" Adelaide (Ella Park), lead performer at the Hot Box nightclub; their engagement of 14 years hangs in the balance, as she's fed up with his nefarious activities. When notorious gambler Sky Masterson (Ezra Hernandez) hits town, Nathan sees a way to raise funds for his game and put the pesky Save-a-Soul Mission folks to good use, especially their attractive leader Sarah (Eleanor Paul). Insert mayhem, miscommunications, misunderstandings, and Cuba, before we get to a resolution.
The score by Frank Loesser has given us iconic songs for the canon of American standards, including the lovely ballad "I'll Know," nicely sung by Paul and Hernandez (the pitch could have been dropped a notch). The duo get another sweetly haunting number in "I've Never Been in Love Before." "Adelaide's Lament," ("A person could develop a cold") is delivered with delightful expression by Park, and her Hot Box tunes with the "Girls" are lots of fun. Superb showstoppers abound, with "The Oldest Established," "Luck Be a Lady," and the wonderful "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." "Marry the Man Today" gets a great rendition by Paul and Park, whose voices blend well.
The versatile ensemble of assorted gangsters, missionaries, and "dolls" bring loads of vitality to the stage, showing off their talents in Joseph Favalora's snappy choreography. Apart from the skillful principals already mentioned, standouts include the marvelous Nazarian as Nicely Nicely, who totally nails it in several key numbers; his cohort in crime Mollard as hapless Benny; and Kraines' hilarious Big Jule. Kit Grimm deserves special note for his sprightly Arvide Abernathy and a charming version of "More I Cannot Wish You."
Director James Newman keeps it all moving with lively staging and relatively fast scene changes, using the drop curtain wisely, along with some clever transition gimmicks. Music director Ginger Beavers gets a good sound from her spunky pit band, but the balance sometimes threatens to drown out the performers. Brian Redfern's minimalistic set supplies a good New York City background, and red velvet for the Hot Box, as well as palm trees for Cuba, but provides no hint of the underground location for the crap game. The colorful palette of costumes by Pamela Johnson handsomely depict the period, and plant us squarely in Runyon's world. Red for the Save-a-Soul missionaries is a bold and welcome choice. Lighting by Theo Bridant capably serves many functions for mood and locale.
Overall, this production is filled with engaging and winning performances and will have you humming one of the many familiar tunes as you dance your way from the theater. It's definitely worth a revisit, or a first-time discovery of this American classic.
Guys and Dolls, through October 7, 2018, at 6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa CA. Tickets at $22.00-$35.00 can be purchased online at www.6thstreetplayhouse.com or by phone at 707-523-4185 ext. 1