Photo from shawfest.com
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser
Shaw Production—Directed by Tadeusz Bradecki
Musical direction by Paul Sportelli
Choreography by Parker Esse
Set design by Peter Hartwell
Costumes designed by Sue LePage
Starring: Elodie Gillett (Sarah Brown), Kyle Blair (Sky Masterson), Shawn Wright (Nathan Detroit), Jenny L. Wright (Miss Adelaide), Thom Allison (Nicely-Nicely Johnson), Evan Alexander Smith (Harry the Horse), Guy Bannerman (Lt. Brannigan), Aadin Church (Big Julie)
Guys and Dolls is a big brassy musical that evokes a never-neverland of a Broadway filled with sweet-talking gamblers, chorus girls with heart of gold, gangsters with more bark than bite and a beautiful Salvation Army officer named Sarah Brown who wants to make them all embrace the Lord. The Shaw’s charming production delivers the goods for demanding musical lovers: energetic choreography featuring the guys strutting their stuff on Manhattan streets; cute semi-stripteases by the delightful dolls; witty patter advancing the plot and clever set designs that vary scenes from a New York streetscape to a Salvation Army mission hall to a raucous Havana club.
Best of all is the Frank Loesser score, still memorable today over 60 years after it was composed. Kyle Blair, playing a slightly too preppy Sky Masterson, is nevertheless in fine voice for his rousing gambler’s plea “Luck Be a Lady,” and partners well with Elodie Gillett’s Sarah Brown on the lovely duet “My Time of Day/I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” On her own, Gillett offers a sweetly funny version of the glorious ballad “If I Were A Bell.” One of the great showstoppers in Broadway history, the gospel flavoured “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” immortalized by the late Stubby Kaye, is handled with confidence by Thom Allison. (Of course, he can’t match Kaye; who could?)
The revelation in this production is Jenny L. Wright who gleefully inhabits the role of Miss Adelaide, the singing and dancing sensation of the Hot Box Club, who has been gambler Nathan Detroit’s fiancée for 14 years. While no one who saw the 1955 film or the original Broadway show will ever forget Vivian Blaine in her signature role, Wright is marvelous as Adelaide, deliciously delivering the cute love song “A Bushel and a Peck,” the very funny “Adelaide’s Lament,” and making the naughty but nice “Take Back Your Mink,”—the ultimate good girl striptease—into something memorable.
Based on the writings of Broadway chronicler Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls offers a self-styled “musical fable” of a Manhattan underworld that never really existed. Runyon wrote funny and often sentimental stories of some of the colourful characters he knew in the Roaring Twenties and Dirty Thirties—but he cleaned them up to be palatable to the public or the time. His big accomplishment was to create a unique patois—part quaintly formal, part American vernacular, part his own invention—and make it sound unique and poetic.
Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling caught Runyon’s style perfectly; it didn’t hurt that they were New Yorkers, too. The combination of their writing talents and Loesser’s music and lyrics allows the audience to drift into a romantic tale in which two gamblers—Sky and Nathan—are reformed by their dolls, Sarah and Adelaide. Inspired in part by Shaw’s Major Barbara, Miss Sarah Brown finds her principles threatened much like her Shavian predecessors. But she and Sky and Nathan and Big Julie and Nicely-Nicely and even Miss Adelaide are delightful cartoons, not Shaw’s metaphorical figures.
But what worked in 1950, when Guys and Dolls premiered on Broadway with a cast including Robert Alda, Sam Levene and Isabel Bigley, still works today. Thanks to the music, the dialogue and a lively cast, the play makes you want to believe that Broadway really was, well, Runyonesque, many, many years ago.