Story: What’s a small-time gambler to do? Nathan Detroit may run “the oldest established floating crap game in New York,” but Lt. Brannigan of the NYPD is determined to send Nathan and his cronies to jail, come hell or high stakes.
Nathan needs $1,000 to use acquaintance Joey Biltmore’s garage as the locale for his next venture, but has no cash. The solution, he realizes, is to wager that sum against slick Sky Masterson, who’s been known to bet on which sugar cube a fly will land.
So, Nathan bets Sky that the latter won’t be able to convince a woman of Detroit’s choosing to go to dinner with him. The lady in question turns out to be Sgt. Sarah Brown of the Save-A-Soul Mission, which is struggling to find sinners to visit its Manhattan site. Sky takes the bet, then goes about wooing Sgt. Brown.
He tells Sarah that he’ll guarantee 12 sinners will visit her empty mission when her boss, General Cartwright, comes calling the next night. He even talks Sarah into going to dinner with him at his favorite place – a ritzy nightclub in Havana, where the teetotaling Sarah learns how much she likes “Cuban milkshakes” which happen to be laced with rum.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s fiancee of 14 years, a singer named Miss Adelaide, has reached her limit waiting for a wedding proposal. She informs Nathan that she’s been writing letters to her mother in Rhode Island for 12 years, stating that since their 'marriage' she and Detroit now have five children with a sixth on the way. It’s time for Nathan to marry the woman he professes to love.
When a Chicago gangster named Big Jule arrives in town itching for a crap game, he resorts to cheating to win back all his money and then some from Detroit. Arriving late to the party, Sky proceeds to win his bet against all the gamblers: That if they win, he owes each of them $1,000, but if he beats them, they owe him a night at the mission.
So, who do you think will win those bets? And can Sky convince the skeptical Sarah that she hasn’t fallen in love with an inveterate gambler of loose morals?
Highlights: The Muny showcases its magnificently remodeled stage with a spectacular opening for its second centennial, the “perfect musical” known as Guys and Dolls. Director Gordon Greenberg’s extravaganza is top-notch entertainment designed to take advantage of the mammoth Muny stage with this energetic, exquisite production.
Other Info: This version of Guys and Dolls, which won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1950, marks the eighth time the venerable standard has played at The Muny’s outdoor amphitheater but just the third since 1977. Muny artistic director and executive producer Mike Isaacson says that this “’fable of Broadway’ has it all – laughs, love, magical songs and thrilling dances” to help The Muny “soar into our next century.”
You bet it does. Based on characters created by 20th century newspaperman and short story writer Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls was awarded the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Drama before book co-writer Abe Burrows was vilified by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee and the prize was rescinded.
Burrows shaped Jo Swerling’s original script, which paired with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser to make a Broadway smash that ran for 1,200 performances following its 1950 opening.
Guys and Dolls is big and splashy and brimming with energy, all of which Greenberg and his cast and crew play to the hilt in The Muny’s lavish and lovable new version. The two-act, three-hour show plays out fluidly on Paul Tate dePoo III’s wonderfully atmospheric set, which features dozens of signs and billboards on the back wall with product logos aplenty.
The set is awash in Rob Denton’s lavish lighting design and the players are adorned in some amusing costumes courtesy of Tristan Raines, from the slick look for Sky Masterson and the baggy, checkered suits of Nathan Detroit, Nicely-Nicely Johnson and other street hustlers to the starched uniforms for Sgt. Sarah and her grandfather and the frilly outfits of Miss Adelaide.
The high-stepping, acrobatic choreography designed by Lorin Latarro and Patrick O’Neill elevates the crap game in Luck Be a Lady and reaches its zenith on the rousing number, Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, with hands raised and legs gyratiin joyful jubilee at the mission as Nicely-Nicely recounts his most curious dream.
The Muny orchestra, situated in its new position with the remodeled stage, delivers Loesser’s lively score in glorious fashion under Brad Haak’s musical direction and featuring Larry Blank’s orchestrations.
Muny favorite Ken Page, who won an award for his portrayal of Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the 1976 Broadway revival, is delightful as Sarah’s wise grandfather, Arvide Abernathy, and long-time Muny performer Rich Pisarkiewicz deftly handles the role of the gruff Brannigan.
Ben Davis has the charismatic chops to capture the suave and suddenly lovestruck Masterson, working well with newcomer Brittany Bradford, who knows her way around comedy as well as a good song as Sarah.
Portly Jordan Gelber is reminiscent of 20th century comic genius Jackie Gleason, both in his delivery of Detroit’s numerous funny lines and also with his limber moves, while St. Louis native Kendra Kassebaum nearly steals the show with her high comic romp as Miss Adelaide.
Orville Mendoza and Jared Gertner are amusing as Detroit’s bumbling pals, Nicely- Nicely and Benny Southstreet respectively, and Kevin Cahoon does well as Harry the Horse, always hungry for action.
Brendan Averett moves his imposing body deftly in dance numbers as Big Jule and scores with the comedy as well, and perennial Muny local favorite Zoe Vonder Haar shines as the daunting General Cartwright, not above cutting a rug in the mission.
The renovated Muny looks great, and all of its numbers for Guys and Dolls total up to a big winner for the audience.
Musical: Guys and Dolls
Company: The Muny
Venue: The Muny in Forest Park
Dates: Through June 16
Tickets: Free to $100; contact 314-534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.
Photos courtesy of Phillip Hamer