Review | Guys And Dolls: a stand-up production

Guthrie Theater, through August 25

Kirsten Wyatt and Rodney Gardiner in GUYS AND DOLLS. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

A love story played out last night at the Guthrie. The actors playing the beloved stock characters — street-wise gamblers, Chicago gangsters, Bible toting missionaries and air-headed show girls made the audience fall head over heels in love with Guys And Dolls. It is easy to understand the attraction. The classic 1950s musical based on a Damon Runyon story and turned into a hit Broadway show by Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows is a delight, filled with so many recognizable songs and lovable characters there is almost no getting away from the magnetic attraction of this play.

Under the direction of Kent Gash, the corny humor and overdrawn characters turn into a hugely fun evening of great dancing, brash singing and dazzling costumes. The play is billed as A Musical Fable of Broadway and there is little in the show that is meant to be taken seriously. At its core the play’s drama hinges on the juxtaposition of opposite types. The Save a Soul missionaries struggle to mend the ways of sinners while the gamblers remain hooked on the thrill of betting in “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.”

The main love interest in the show is between Sky Masterson, a hard gambling drifter (brooding Jeremiah James) and Miss Sarah Brown, a dedicated missionary (sweet-singing Olivia Hernandez).  However in the Guthrie’s production the spotlight is on the secondary love story between Miss Adelaide, a show girl at the Hot Box nightclub and her fiancé of 14 years Nathan Detroit, the gambling impresario. There are run-away great performances by Kirsten Wyatt as Miss Adelaide and Rodney Gardiner as Nathan Detroit.  Adelaide is a ditz with a heart of gold and Nathan is unwilling to commit to a life of sober married bliss. They make a charming pair of unlikely lovers and can sing and dance their way into the hearts of summer theatre goers with ease. Wyatt has the kind of acting chops that could squeeze a laugh out of a ketchup bottle. She knows when to place a small whimper into her act just to keep the audience sympathetic to her character’s plight.

The choreography (by Dell Howlett) is enough to make the average audience member swoon, especially the ensemble numbers for the gang of gamblers. “Guys and Dolls” and “Crapshooter’s Dance” are two of the stand outs. “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” brought many members of the audience to their feet in a mid-show standing ovation. Of the 124 flashy costumes in the show (by Kara Harmon) perhaps my favorite was the inspired choice of giving the Irish cop (well played by Robert O. Berdahl) a lemon-yellow trench coat with matching yellow fedora.

The Guthrie’s summer musical has become a tradition and this is a good example of a dated show resurrected into an invigorating contemporary summer romance.

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