Guys and Dolls, the revered, classic musical comedy written by Frank Loesser (Music and Lyrics) and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows (Book) has recently been revived at the refurbished Nederlander Theatre and has received a slew of scathing and pretty scary reviews if you believe everything that you read. So why has Guys and Dolls, under the direction of Des McAnuff, who is responsible for the huge hit Jersey Boys, been so reviled?
From what has been printed it appears that you will either love it or loathe it. I am much closer to loving. I had an extremely enjoyable time – most of the time.
No one can dispute the fact the score, which includes such standards as “I’ll Know”, “Adelaide’s Lament” ( “a person can develop a cold”) “If I Were a Bell” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” is first rate. And that is such a plus in these days of musicals without many memorable tunes. It also boasts a great book. However, some of the dialogue is dated and some jokes so stale they just don’t land they way they used to.
The three tiered, on stage orchestra – much like a nightclub band of the thirties (the new time period for the show – which makes for some fun costumes by Paul Tazewell) remains hidden behind a screen where the controversial video projections (Dustin O’Neill) which are an integral part of the amazingly creative set (Robert Brill) are viewed. Some have reported they cause motion sickness. I thought they were terrific. So, good score and good production values. Now we come to the cast.
The delightful surprise is Lauren Graham – of “Gilmore Girls”. Who would have ever imagined that she would make such a memorable Adelaide – the long suffering fiancée, engaged to Nathan Detroit for fourteen years, who works at singing and stripping while waiting for the ring to be placed on her lonely finger. She is sensational and lights up the stage whenever she is on with her comic timing and clear as a bell voice. One of the best numbers is “Take Back Your Mink” (choreographed by Sergio Trujillo – whose other dances are pulsating with sex and athleticism). She alone is reason to see Guys and Dolls.
Kate Jennings Grant as Sarah the Salvation Army saver of lost gamblers is lovely to look at. Lovely voice. Just lovely. I had hoped for a little more oomph! As her gambler love interest, Sky Masterson, Craig Bierko has a fine baritone, has the looks and a smile to seduce and does what is called for very nicely. Which leaves me to Nathan Detroit played by Oliver Platt. Or should I say walked through by Oliver Platt. I don’t understand his casting. He is not funny. At all. What were they thinking? Other over the top Damon Runyon characters come up to the bar – especially Titus Burgess as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Mary Testa as General Cartwright and Jim Ortlieb as Sarah’s grandfather Arvide Abernathy who makes musical magic when he sings “More I Cannot Wish You”. Second reason to see this show.
In the second act we go down into the sewer where Nathan is holding his crap game. Third and best reason to see this show. It’s fabulous. Getting there is half the fun. The “Luck Be a Lady” numbers is tops. Only outdone by “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” where Mary Testa wows her fans. Second acts are always hardest to pull off. But this one makes up for the deficiencies of the first. The addition of “Damon Runyon” – Raymond Del Barrio – who book ends the show and is seen lurking about in scenes is a distraction and a case of more is less.
For all its talk about crap games and sinners, Guys and Dolls is basically about love. About why someone falls for whomever and why it causes problems that have to be surmounted because you are in love with that person and that there is no explanation for that feeling. Love is love. That’s why Adelaide waits so long for her Nathan. Why Sky shapes up and marries Sarah. Frank Loesser must have been a truly romantic guy.