“What kind of doll are you?” Sky Masterson, high-roller extraordinaire, asks incredulously.
To which Sergeant Sarah Brown, proud marcher for the Salvation Army, now sober after getting herself roundly sloshed on Bacardi-flavored milkshakes, replies defiantly, “I’m a mission doll!” End of Act One.
I tried hard, I really did. But I couldn’t entirely shrug off the wild shenanigans in Guys And Dolls (at the Ordway, though June 26) as the politically incorrect but harmless antics of a raffish classic. Too many cringe-moments: the showgirl who remains happily engaged for fourteen (14) years. The above-referenced holy roller who doesn’t realize she’s drinking alcohol (“Gee, what’s in this drink?”). The Broadway gangsters dressed in eye-searingly loud suits whose only real crime is a game of craps in a temporarily empty prayer hall. Constantly referring to women as “dolls”.
Guys And Dolls is a classic to be sure, but it’s aging poorly (as evidenced by the badly received 2009 Broadway revival). Book writers Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling create a Runyonesque (a word which seems to have been coined to describe this show) never-was New York in which characters, try as they may, can’t quite run amok because they are wading-pool shallow. The story – Sky falls in love with the holy roller and enlists the nattily dressed hooligans to play sinners; Nathan Detroit finally agrees to marry the extremely patient Adelaide – is dismissible. Dolls doesn’t have the pull-you-in intensity of true classics like West Side Story (coming soon to the Orpheum) or the crazed theatrics of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum (currently playing at the Jungle).
Ah, but it does have those marvelous Frank Loesser songs. Even if you’ve never seen a production (which seems unlikely; there have been many thousands) I bet you know the tunes by heart: “A Bushel And A Peck”, “Adelaide’s Lament” (“A poison could develop ‘La Grippe'”), the drivingly brilliant Sinatra-esque “Luck Be A Lady”, the gospel-inflected toe-tapper “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat”. Need a reason to see Guys And Dolls? Here it is.
The performers in the Ordway production, though they more than occasionally lack acting chops, sing this material beautifully. As an actor Matt Farnsworth may be an stiff and awkward but when he sings his Sky Masterson comes alive. “Luck Be A Lady” is powerful and affecting; ditto “My Time Of Day”. The round but athletic Todd Buonopane (Nicely-Nicely) tears into “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat” and makes it fly. Katherine Strohmaier (Sarah) renders “If I Were A Bell” gorgeously (I would, however, like to give her wig-designer a piece of my mind). As Nathan Detroit, Daniel C. Levine is breathless and peripatetic, but ultimately charming. Clayton Corzatte may not be the world’s best singer but “More I Cannot Wish You” has more sweetness and honesty than anything you’re likely to hear in some time.
Finally, saving the best for last, Billie Wildrick is terrific as Adelaide. Her New York showgirl accent works perfectly for both the songs and her character. She’s sweet, passionate but she never makes you pity her. Her “Adelaide’s Lament” is a sneezy delight.
Director Peter Rothstein‘s production is super fast-paced, probably a necessity, given that both the Ordway and Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre (the two venues co-produced) are cavernous. Guys And Dolls zips along and although the production is repetitive to a fault (how often can the snooty dog-walkers and the bicycling nun cross the stage?) the play comes through nicely.
Recommended – because of the songs. They are lovely indeed.
For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.