GUYS AND DOLLS has a subtitle of “A Musical Fable of Broadway” and the Old Globe’s current production leans into that description. It’s set in Damon Runyon’s version of Broadway, a charming and nostalgic look at a New York filled with loveable gangsters with hearts of gold, funny and fierce dolls, and enough neon to light up the entire city. Nothing proves that everyone in the city has is running a con more than the seductive, and sunny, slight of hand that is the opening number showing tourists negotiating the city while just about everyone else is running a scam of sort.
This shady version of Times Square, full of gamblers and grifters is what brings Christian reformer Sarah Brown to the city. She believes she can clean up the sin and the vice and help everyone live a better life; even if no one else in the city seems to have any interest in cleaning up their act. Nathan Detroit (J. Bernard Calloway) is a gambler and craps game facilitator who is engaged to Miss Adelaide (Veronica J. Kuehn), a showgirl who dreams of actually getting married to her perpetual fiancé. When Nathan needs to find a place to host his illegal, but notorious, crap game he turns to high roller Sky Masterson (Terence Archie) with a bet Nathan’s sure to win. Nathan bets Sky that he can’t take a doll of Nathan’s choosing to Havana with him on a date. Sky readily agrees only to be shown the doll he has to woo is the puritanical missionary Miss Sarah Brown.
As Nathan, Calloway is very funny and maintains a highly energized constant state of comedic peril between the demands of setting up a game, keeping Adelaide from finding out he is still running the game, and trying to stay unmarried for just a bit longer. He is larger than life and with a great sense of comedic timing that keeps the character of Nathan charming and loveable. If his voice sounds familiar, you may more easily recognize him when he is green as he is the resident Grinch at the Old Globe traditional holiday show.
As Adelaide, Kuehn steals the show as the sweet but spirited showgirl who just wants to get married already. She gets some of the best audience reactions with her sneeze laden song “Adelaide’s Lament” in the first act and the fact that her Marilyn-eque squeaks tend to get higher and faster the more frustrated that Adelaide gets. Her duet with Calloway in “Sue Me” is one of the most entertaining numbers in the show.
Archie’s Sky Masterson has the easy grace, and charm of a man who is sure of himself and his abilities. With a voice as smooth and soulful as his character is confident his “Luck be a Lady” is an audience pleaser.
Audrey Cardwell is lovely as the uptight Sarah. She may start as a seemingly unbending character, but she’s fun to watch soften and blossom onto a woman in love who is determined to get her man without losing her principles along the way. Her clear soprano is powerful and her “If I were a Bell” was sweetly comedic. The duet “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” between her and Archie is full of the sweet infatuation that only a great first date can bring.
Other memorable numbers are the titular “Guys and Dolls” by Nicely Nicely Johnson (Todd Buonopane) and Benny Southstreet (Matt Bauman) with comedic charm, and the “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” by the cast, as led by Buonopane.
Some standout performances by the lovely Linda Libby as the formidable General Cartwright, Lance Carter as the Brooklyn wise guy Harry the Horse, and Ed Hollingsworth as Lt. Brannigan round out this talented cast.
Along with this delightful romantic comedy cocktail, it is served and heightened by Franks Loesser’s incredible score.
Choreographed and directed by Josh Rhodes, the “Crap Shooter’s Dance” and “Havana” are highly athletic, enthusiastic, and exciting. They are supported by the wonderful Sinai Tabak’s band, and highlighted by Paul Miller’s lighting. This New York bustles and dances with retro homage to the 1950’s musical but it all happens under a wide expanse of neon lights which helps add a layer of Technicolor vividness to the show.
Brian C. Hemesath’s costumes are fun and vivid interpretations of the area. Adelaide and her girls wear beautiful burlesque outfits for their shows while the men are bringing plaid, three piece suits back into style. The design of the show captures the essence of the city with colorful signs and set pieces, but doesn’t follow the expected course with painted drops that historically go with this show. The Hot Box, Adelaide’s place of employment, is less floor show and more burlesque inspired on a lifted stage. The curved lines and the lighting for the underground crap game are particularly pretty and evocative.
GUYS AND DOLLS is a fun and energetic visit to a rose tinted view of Broadway’s guys and dolls, but you wouldn’t have it any other way.
GUYS AND DOLLS is playing at The Old Globe through August 13th. For ticket and show times information go to www.tholdglobe.org