Play: Guys and Dolls
Group: Stages St. Louis
Venue: Reim Theatre, Kirkwood Community Center, 111 South Geyer Road
Dates: Through October 4
Tickets: From $15 to $48; contact 314-821-2407 or www.stagesstlouis.org
Story: Gambling is the order of the day in 'Runyonland,' a place very much like New York City's Broadway, circa 1950, where Nathan Detroit and his boisterous pals are looking for the next location for "The Oldest Established Floating Crap Game." Nathan needs a grand to rent a willing establishment, but doesn't have it. So, he bets visiting pal Sky Masterson that the suave Sky will not be able to convince prim Sarah Brown of the local Salvation Army outpost to accompany him to Havana. Unbeknownst to Detroit, though, Sky falls under the sway of the appealing Sarah, promising her his own 'marker' to deliver a dozen sinners to her next prayer meeting. What are the odds?
Highlights: This venerable old warhorse first trod Broadway boards in 1950, running in its run for 1,200 performances and picking up five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in the process. Based on stories by colorful American writer Damon Runyon, it's a sure crowd-pleaser with its boy-meets-girl, opposites-attract angle playing off the hijinks of the high-rolling gamblers. The book by Abe Burrows and Jo Sperling is accented on comedy with just the right measure of romance, while the music and lyrics by Frank Loesser are engaging and easygoing.
The current presentation by Stages St. Louis suitably captures the show's comic elements as well as showcasing its musical standards, thanks to Michael Hamilton's polished direction and the appealing stage presence of Edward Watts as the charismatic Sky Masterson. Watt's appealing good looks complement the rakish gambler's amiable nature, and he delivers a galvanizing performance in the show's best number, Luck Be a Lady, amidst the glorious backdrop of a Manhattan sewer.
Other Info: Lou Bird's gaudy, colorful costumes match the mood of the free-spirited guys and their lovable dolls, from the garish purple threads of hapless Nathan to the handsome threads of Sky, and from the proper Salvation Army uniforms to the risque threads of the dancers at The Hot Box nightclub where Nathan's long-suffering and 14-years-engaged fiance, Adelaide, performs. Mark Halpin's art deco scenic design suitably exaggerates the locale, all brightly illuminated by Matthew McCarthy.
Julie Cardia and David Foley Jr. play well off each other as the shrill, dimwitted Adelaide and her hustling boyfriend, Detroit, making the timeworn jokes still work, particularly when Cardia as Adelaide recounts a series of letters to her mother about her 'family' with 'husband' Nathan. Kate Fisher as Sarah displays some pleasant chemistry with Watts as Sky and demonstrates a beautiful voice on the ballads I'll Know and I've Never Been in Love Before, sung in duets with Watts.
Edward Juvier, fitfully funny last month as the Latin lothario in The Drowsy Chaperone, returns with another winning performance as the constantly snacking Nicely-Nicely Johnson, highly engaging in the show-stopping Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat number. Stages mainstays Steve Isom and Ben Nordstrom make a dapper duo as Nathan's comrades Benny Southstreet and the jauntily gaited Rusty Charlie, respectively.
Paul Pagano is the 'neigh-saying' Harry the Horse, Jason Cannon is the unflappable Lt. Brannigan, John Flack is Sarah's kindly grandfather and Zoe Vonder Haar is the Salvation Army general smitten by the handsome Masterson. And Herschel Sparber gets plenty of laughs as Big Julie, the oversized roller who won't let the crap game end until he wins.
The choreography of Dana Lewis makes judicious use of the compact stage, accentuated on the ensemble dance number, Harlem, while the musical direction by Lisa Campbell Albert and orhcestral design by Stuart Elmore pleasantly compensate for the lack of a live orchestra.
There's certainly no new ground broken here, but Guys and Dolls is another example of how solidly Hamilton and Stages can mount a warhorse and drive it successfully to the finish line.
Rating: A 4 ON A SCALE OF 1-TO-5.