Quote of the Day: It’s funny, fast and colorful, and it represents a version of New York City that is full of rhythm, resilience, and an aspirational energy. Kent Gash, director of this summer’s Guthrie Theater’s production of Guys and Dolls.
From the moment the 12-piece orchestra plays the first strains of the overture to the jazzed up, Gospel inspired, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” Guys and Dolls sizzles with pizzazz and sparkles with all the glitz and glamour of Times Square. It’s not a perfect script. The love story is kind of dopey and completely implausible, and the roles for women are less than satisfactory. That said, Guys and Dolls is still one of my favorite classic musicals. I saw it on my honeymoon at the Chanhassen Dinner Theaters, also a less than perfect union, but more on that later.
The things I liked about this production: #1 is the dancing (choreography by Dell Howlett). Absolutely stunning dancers and staging, and a gorgeously diverse cast. They make each scene pop with movement that keeps the show exciting and tells the story. The Hot Box dancers are colorful 1950’s strippers and the guys are street performers with a penchant for rolling dice. That scene down in Havana is smokin’ hot with all the ooo, la, la. One of my favorite songs, “The Oldest Established” is rhythmic and fun. The guys have a nice, precise beat, and I wanted to rewind and watch that part again.
#2 The costuming (by Kara Harmon) is bright and beautiful, almost like in a storybook, with vibrant colors from the men’s suits to the dancer’s lingerie. Guys and Dolls has been called “A Musical Fable.” I’m not sure what they mean by that. It might be because the characters are based on fictitious characters created by newspaper columnist Damon Runyon in the 1930’s and ’40’s. Maybe it’s because of the moral aspects with Sarah Brown and the Save-A-Soul Mission. What I saw reminded me of the film “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” Lt. Brannigan’s yellow slicker and hat look like Dick Tracy. And, the dialogue is filled with old time detective lingo.
#3 The music. I like most of the songs in Guys and Dolls. “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” is one of my all-time favorite musical numbers, and I liked what they did with it in this production. The entire theater was rippling from the energy of it. I liked seeing the orchestra above the stage. Lead by J. Oconer Navarro, they were fantastic. (I appreciate that they are featured in the program, too.) The show starts out with “Fugue for Tinhorns” (kind of a funny title) but energetic and exciting as the guys talk about the race horses and their bets. “Luck Be a Lady” was made famous from Frank Sinatra’s recording. Although, he didn’t sing it in the movie. He played Nathan Detroit who sings “Sue Me,” also a classic. Sky Masterson sings “Luck,” but it wasn’t my favorite in any of the productions I’ve seen. “Adelaide’s Lament” is also a fun song, which leads us to #4.
#4 the character Adelaide. She’s the real star in this show. Her character is quirky, dynamic, and we immediately feel a sympathy for her. After all, she’s been waiting around for Nathan for 14 years, and he still can’t commit! The story line makes it funny, but also a little bit sad. She invents a whole life for herself and him, a scene which I chuckle through every time, but part of me wants her to dump him and find a real man who’s not a gambling addict. Kirsten Wyatt plays Adelaide with heart, energy, and all the charm. Brava!
Rodney Gardiner is a fine Nathan Detroit, giving him a personality that is endearing, even when he’s aggravating (see note: Adelaide). Jeremiah James gives Sky Masterson a sweetness that I’ve never seen before, and for once, a Sky that can sing. His voice is dreamy. The quicky romance is still ridiculous, but I liked hearing him croon about it in “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” Justin Keyes plays my other favorite character in this musical, Nicely-Nicely Johnson. He gets to sing the best song, and he rocked it! Regina Marie Williams lends her amazing talents to this song as General Cartwright.
Other colorful characters populate this play: Harry the Horse (Jon Andrew Hegge) always makes me giggle. Big Jule, played by Karen Wiese-Thompson, was an interesting twist on the character. Angela Timberman plays Agatha/Joey who comes in for a one-liner here and there and to clean up the costumes discarded by the Hot Box Dancers. Robert O. Berdahl was a great Lt. Brannigan, nice accent. And, I always get a little teary when Sarah Brown’s grandfather Arvide Abernathy (Peter Thomson) sings, “More I Cannot Wish You.”
What I didn’t like about the show: The women just seemed to be there for decoration or to fall in love with the men. And, in the most irritating song of the night, “Marry the Man,” their role is to change him? News flash, you can’t change anyone, a woman’s job is not to rescue the man, and women have aspirations other than gettin’ hitched and havin’ babies. I know. This is a 1950’s musical. Attitudes are reflected as such. But, guess what, not all women in 1950 aspired to those things either. Olivia Hernandez did a nice job of playing Sarah Brown. She has lovely vocals and is a great entertainer. She has a crappy part. She has to pretend to fall in love with a guy in less than 24 hours, someone who isn’t anything like what she looks for in a man. And, after a couple shots of rum in her coconut milk, she’s suddenly lose and free and has lowered her standards? What?
I’m not ready to place this musical in the vault and throw away the key, but I see the flaws in it, now. Like I said at the beginning of this long post, it’s still one of my favorite classic musicals. So, watch the show. Bring the youngsters, then use it as a discussion on how we’ve evolved, or maybe still need to. I can tell you from experience. You can’t reform a gambler. He has to decide to do that on his own.
You can see Guys and Dolls at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN through August 25, 2019. It’s a rockin’ good time.
Go. Create. Inspire!
Journaling Prompt: Have you seen any revivals of old-fashioned shows that worked?
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