Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's recent review of My Barking Dog
Guys and Dolls is possibly the greatest musical comedy ever written. Other great musicals (My Fair Lady, West Side Story, and Gypsy) all have an underlying serious theme, whereas Guys and Dolls exists strictly for its entertainment value. And, wow, how entertaining it is when done almost perfectly, as it is here. The book is full of humor, my favorite moment being a moment in act one, scene one when Sky Masterson tells Nathan Detroit about some advice his father gave him earlier in life. And, oh my goodness, the songs! How many musicals can claim a score this great? "Fugue for Tinhorns," "I'll Know," "A Bushel and a Peck," the title tune, "If I Were a Bell" and "Luck Be a Lady" is just skimming the surfacethere are three or four more well known songs I haven't mentioned. In the middle of the second act is a song called "More I Cannot Wish You," a simple, elegant little ballad which I adore. It gets a little lost because it is proceeded by a reprise of "Adelaide's Lament" and followed shortly by "Luck Be a Lady." Such a plethora of great songs, and I haven't even mentioned the guaranteed-to-stop-the-show "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat."
This is not a show that requires stars; as wonderful as the original leads were, none of them went on to more than solid careers, mostly on Broadway. What it does require is a solid understanding of the rapid, comic style then prevalent on Broadway in musicals such as Top Banana, Wonderful Town, and Call Me Madam (all within three years of the 1950 Broadway premiere of Guys and Dolls). Director Josh Rhodes talks about going back to the source material and looking at the script with a fresh eye and what is on stage bears witness to his success. He also talks about his reverence for original choreographer Michael Kidd and, unless I am mistaken, he has almost recreated the original "Crap Shooters Ballet" to brilliant effect. He is aided by musical director Sinai Tabak, who is still an incredibly young man with a very old musical soul. One detail that he gets emphatically right is that his cast sings much more legato than is often heard, something that Frank Loesser was a stickler for. This production is the best I've ever seen, far sharper in pacing than the fabled 1992 production starring Nathan Lane and Faith Prince.
Veronica J. Kuehn is kewpie-doll cute as Adelaide, a surefire role with "A Bushel and a Peck" immediately followed by perhaps the greatest comedy song in all of musical theater, "Adelaide's Lament," with "Take Back Your Mink" as insurance. Chris Hoch plays her beloved Nathan Detroit with fine comic flare. The original Nathan wasn't much of a singer, so the role is vocally limited. Still, he leads "The Oldest Established" to rousing effect. As the female romantic lead, Audrey Cardwell as Sister Sarah Brown has exactly the right soprano to strongly score in her two duets with Sky, "I'll Know" and "I've Never Been in Love Before" as well as "If I Were a Bell." Sarah is a tricky sing and she does right by it vocally and her acting is also on track. Cole Burden as Sky Masterson has the good looks and swagger, but he doesn't quite have the rich baritone I yearn to hear in the part. He steps right in to a long line of Skys (Robert Alda, original cast; Marlon Brando, movie; Peter Gallagher, 1992 revival), none of whom had the vocal chops that could send "Luck Be a Lady" into the stratosphere. Still, on shear physical presence alone, he is a fine Sky.
Nicely Nicely Johnson, played by Todd Buonopane, is a part that can steal the show if the director is not careful, with great numbers such as "Guys and Dolls" and the almost 11 o'clock "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." Director Rhodes keeps him in check (pun toward his checkered suit entirely intended), but he is a major presence in this production. Other featured parts that are well taken include Elliott Mattox as Benny Southstreet, Fredena J. Williams as General Matilda B. Cartwright, Wayne Morton as Arvide Abernathy, and Steve Greenstein as Big Jule. The entire ensemble is top quality, with all the small roles well filled.
The technical aspects of this production, usually one of the glories of any Asolo Rep production, are brilliantly realized. On Lee Savage's set, the production is framed by two bright neon-lit set pieces that completely capture the glare of Broadway, circa 1940s. His realization of Miss Adelaide's Hot Box is also stunning and when we finally arrive in the sewers for the ultimate crap game, he gives it a completely other-worldly feel. Savage's work is beyond glorious. Costumes by Brian C. Hemesath are on the same exalted level, and lighting design by Paul Miller is highly effective. Sound design by Kevin Kennedy is excellent; he avoids the harsh sound that often accompanies heavily miked shows. Hair/wig and make-up design by Michelle Hart is up to standards that only she can meet.
For the perfect holiday treat, and it runs until New Year's Day, Sarasota audiences should run to visit the world of Damon Runyon and this sensational production of Guys and Dolls.
Note:I paid a return visit to Guys and Dolls on December 6, roughly a third of the way through the run. I found the production still in tip top shape, a tiny bit of the crispness has faded but in its place was an added warmth in the interaction between our characters. This is still, by far the best production of this classic musical I have ever experienced. Seated beside me where two supporters of the theater and Guys and Dolls was completely new to them, so they were laughing at all the jokes and just loving it.Being able to share in their fresh reaction to it reminded me that it is one of the greatest musicals ever written.
Asolo Repertory Theatre presents Guys and Dolls through January 1, 2017, at the Mertz Theatre in the FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, Florida. Box Office (941) 351-8000. For more information visit www.asolorep.org.
Cast: (in order of appearance)
Musicians (in alphabetical order):
Directed and Choreographed by Josh Rhodes