GUYS AND DOLLS IS A HIT AT GOODSPEED MUSICALS

By Marlene S. Gaylinn

“Guys and Dolls,” currently playing at Goodspeed Opera House, is an example of what a hit musical should contain -- interesting subject matter, great characters, wonderful songs and lively dancing. The plot pokes fun at slick, New York City gangsters and is based on short stories by Damon Runyon.With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and original choreography by Michael Kidd, it’s no wonder that the show won five Tony Awards when it premiered on Broadway in 1950.

At Goodspeed, this revival under the expert direction of Don Stephenson, contains a superb cast and fresh choreography by Alex Sanchez. The production also lives up to the show’s sub-title, “A Musical Fable of Broadway,” because its colorful characters act as if they were lifted directly from “The Daily News” comic strips.

Speaking of Broadway, among the fascinating details of the set is a neon-lit backdrop of Times Square, designed by Jay Hilton. If you look carefully you will see the famous Camels cigarette sign which somehow issues real, miniature, smoke rings. The use of this backdrop allows plenty of space for the actors and dancers and that’s a great plus for Goodspeed. Unfortunately, this magnificent artwork also competes with the performers who tend to be absorbed into the busy, black background -- especially if they are darkly dressed.

  NYC folks who grew up during this Era might also notice that some of the styles did not suit the time-period. We missed the extra-wide loud ties, cuffed pants, and the younger men’s striped “Zoot Suits.” For the uninformed, the short-lived Zoot Suit fashion which began with black men, soon attracted favor among young whites who wished to look bold and trendy -- this included gangster-types. The ensemble included a long jacket with wide shoulder pads, baggy, tapered pants, long watch chains and wide-brimmed hats.

Interestingly, the program has a photo of well-known dancer/actor Peter Gennaro, father of the new Goodspeed Executive Director, Michael Gennaro, wearing such an outfit. As for the young women before WWII, their rayon stockings were outlined with re-enforced heels and seams. Also, the color-clashing daytime dresses at Goodspeed would have been outlandish-- even for cartoon-like characters. But, in all fairness, I must acknowledge that today’s audiences would probably never detect these minor details because the show is so good. In fact, Goodspeed’s “Guys and Dolls” is truly one of its best productions.

The lighthearted musical takes place around 1930-40’s (Runyon died in 1946) and pokes fun at petty gangsters who fought for gambling rights and territorial power, mostly among themselves. The characters names are very funny. How can a show fail with: “Nathan Detroit” (Mike Price), who’s main job is to seek locations for his gang’s illegal crap games, “Sky Masterson” (Tony Roach), a slick, high roller who would bet on anything, “Nicely-Nicely Johnson” (Scotte Cote) and “Big Julie” (Jerry Gallagher) who is the gang’s fearsome rival? Other friendly followers of the trade are: “Harry the Horse” (Carlos Lopez), “Angie the Ox,” (Paul Aguirre), “Rusty Charlie” (Jordan Grubb), and “Bennie Southsreet” (Noah Plomgren). Of course, there has to be an unfriendly, Irish cop to outwit -- he is simply called, “Lt. Bannigan” (David Sitler).

Among the two “Dolls” are squeaky-voiced “Adelaide” (Nancy Aderson), who suffers from a persistent allergy due to being engaged to Nathan for 14 years, and attractive “Sarah” (Manna Nichols), the “Save the Soul” missionary who captures Sky’s affections.

This highly entertaining musical features lots of dancing, a full orchestra, and best of all, it’s loaded with popular song-sequences: “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Luck be a Lady Tonight,” “If I were a Bell,” etc. “Take Back Your Mink,” sung by the plaintive Adelaide, and the “Sit Down Your Rockin’ the Boat,” rendered by the highly spirited Nicely-Nicely, are among the most favorite numbers.

Plays through June 20; Tickets: 860-873-8668
This review appears in “On CT &
NY Theatre” May/2015

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