GUYS AND DOLLS (A Musical Fable of Broadway, Based on a story and characters of Damon Runyon). Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser. Book by Jo Sweling and Abe Burrows.
Festival Theatre, Stratford, ON
Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore, Musical Direction by Laura Burton, Produced by David Auster
Well, a plot synopsis isn’t necessary for this one as almost all of us, who have either a love or an appreciation of the performing arts, are aware of the fly by night Broadway romance of gambler and ‘intended’ groom Nathan Detroit (Sean Arbuckle) to the bubbly and perky Hot Box girl Miss Adelaide (Blythe Wilson). Nathan makes a bet with high rolling gambler Sky Masterson (Evan Buliung) that he won’t take the Save-A-Soul missionary ‘doll’ Sarah Brown (Alexis Gordon) to Havana with him. I will admit that I wasn’t keen on seeing GUYS AND DOLLS. Why bother reviving this chestnut when there are other stories that need to be shared with twenty first century audiences?
Anyway, I tried, I honestly tried (apologies to Miss Adelaide for the awkward paraphrasing) to view this production with fresh eyes but it’s challenging. At this June matinee performance, the actors appear to shout and maintain the frenetic energy at such an elevated level and feverish pitch all the time that it is distracting and tiring. Granted these thirty-one professionals are doing their best to create the vibrancy of 1940s New York, but the performance level is forced too much; it’s pushed too much in our faces all the time, and the ‘garish, cheeky, sweet world of Damon Runyon’s Broadway’ (from Robert Harris’ Program Notes) appears willy nilly throughout the performance.
That is not to say this GUYS AND DOLLS is a terrible production as there are some moments that are spell binding and jaw dropping, specifically Director Donna Feore’s brilliant and mesmerizing choreography. If you are sitting in the balcony of Stratford’s Festival Theatre, you will most certainly admire and appreciate the breathtaking Crapshooters’ dance routine prior to the show stopping LUCK BE A LADY. TAKE BACK YOUR MINK and A BUSHEL AND A PECK evoke the peek a boo, titillating, burlesque and dance hall palaces of 1940s Manhattan. The Havana bar scene is seamless and flawless in specific movement, its sea of costumes and carefully staged fight thanks to John Stead. Dana Osborne and Alison Marshall’s costume designs are colourfully and distinctly refined. The unseen orchestra led by Music Director Laura Burton are in tip top and fine form. It was a nice touch to have Ms. Burton acknowledge and take a bow at the curtain call.
A few of the supporting players also deserve mention. Steve Ross as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and the company deliver a knockout and stellar rendition of SIT DOWN, YOU’RE ROCKIN’ THE BOAT with pizzazz and gusto. Laurie Murdoch delivers a touching MORE I CANNOT WISH YOU to a confused Sarah Brown who is uncertain how she feels about Sky.
GUYS AND DOLLS continues in repertory until October 29, 2017 at the Festival Theatre, Stratford Ontario. For further information please visit their website.
Previously published on ONSTAGE.