Monday, November 7, 2022

Review of "Guys and Dolls" - ACT of CT

 I always judge a production of Guys and Dolls by the quality of the big 11:00 o’clock number, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”  On this point, the staging of the Frank Loesser classic is a rousing success.  Not only does the character of Nicely Nicely Johnson (Izzy Figueroa), give a spirited rendition of the showstopper, but what elevates the scene is the synchronous movement of the cast along with Lighting Designer Chris Chambers’ atmospheric effects.  The cast members pulsate and sway to Sara Brians’ superb choreography, appearing as one amorphous legion of sinners wailing to the heavens.  

The musical, with a libretto by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, is based on a number of short stories from the writer Damon Runyon.  His tales are populated by such colorful characters as gamblers, nightclub performers, society folk and the regular people found in the environs of Broadway.

In Guys and Dolls there are two stories running side by side.  The primary thrust of the book is on Nathan Detroit and his associates who are frantically seeking a secure location for their floating crap game.  Complicating matters is his longtime girlfriend, cabaret star Miss Adelaide, who has been patiently waiting 14 years to get married to the man.  The other plot line is of big-time gambler, Sky Masterson and his pursuit of Save-A-Soul Mission member Sarah Brown.  

The show is enlivened by one of the great scores in musical theater history.  [An historical side note — the music and lyrics did not win the Tony Award that year, which went to Irving Berlin for Call Me Madam].  The songs in Guys and Dolls include such gems as the buoyant "A Bushel and a Peck," the delectable dizziness of "Adelaide's Lament," the lovable comedic duet of "Sue Me;" the lively "Guys and Dolls" and "Luck Be a Lady," and my personal favorite, the irresistible "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat."  The 11-person pit band, led by Music Director Nick Wilders, delivers each number with gusto and a glossy sheen.

Director Daniel C. Levine and Choreographer Brians have teamed up to produce an energetic and wholly entertaining show.  Scene changes are fluidly executed, helped enormously by Set Designer Jack Mehler’s sliding paneled backdrops.  The non-musical segments lag somewhat, with jokes not always landing, but Mr. Levine still manages to attach a feisty and playful aura to the musical.  I do wish, however, he would have started the production directly with the traditional “Runyonland” opening as opposed to the meditative beginning he inserted.

The outstanding dance numbers make up for any sluggishness of the show.  The Havana outdoor cafe sequence is bold and sexy.  “The Crapshooters Dance,” which takes place at the underground gambling den, is vibrant and muscular.  The two nightclub routines - “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink” are charming, amusing, and totally captivating.  Both production numbers are highlighted by Costume Designer Claudia Stefany’s whimsical, brightly-colored and a tad risqué outfits.  

The four stars of the show are first rate.  As Sky Masterson, Matt Faucher is the essence of coolness.  The actor brings a confident, self-assured awareness to the role.  He can be tough as well as vulnerable.  Katherine Riddle is a bit too staid as Times Square missionary Sarah Brown, but she possesses one of the best singing voices I’ve heard on a Connecticut stage in some time.  Her rendition of “If I Were a Bell” is breathtaking.  Overall, Phil Sloves is fine as Nathan Detroit even though his rambunctious shenanigans could have benefitted with a more nuanced portrayal.  Donna Vivino, a veteran of many Broadway musicals, is pure joy as the hopelessly in love Miss Adelaide.  She sings beautifully, can stay step-to-step with her Hot Box dancers, and exhibits a vivacious comic flair.  The three sidekicks of Nathan Detroit - Nicely Nicely Johnson (Izzy Figueroa), Rusty Charlie (Herrera), and Benny Southstreet (Michael McGuirk) - provide humorous schtick throughout the show.

Guys and Dolls, well-worth catching at ACT of CT in Ridgefield, through November 20.  Click here for ticket information, dates and times.

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