OREM — The age old battle of the sexes comes to a head in Guys and Dolls, a musical originally premiering in 1950 and finding new stage at Orem’s Hale Center Theater. The classic script by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows is about Nathan Detroit, who stands to make a reaping of cash if he can only find a spot for his illegal floating crap game, a task made difficult by the local strong-armed police force and fiancée Adelaide’s vehement protests that he cease and desist. Few locations exist to host the game, and the only viable lead—The Biltmore Garage, is asking $1,000 to cover the assumed risk. Unable to contrive the funds in any other way, Nathan makes a long shot bet with infamous gambler Sky Masterson. In order to win the one thousand grand, Sky must defunct on his promise to take “any doll” with him to Havana, Cuba.
Enter Sister Sarah Brown, crusader for New York’s missionary program and object of Nathan and Sky’s bet. Though initially put off by Sky’s charismatic guise of “reformed sinner,” she finds herself boarding a plane with him to Cuba on promise of one dozen genuine sinners, should she agree to go. All seems well, though upon return to New York, it is revealed that Nathan snuck the gamblers into the mission to begin their game of craps. Sarah discovers the con and demands that Sky leave.
In the meantime, Nathan Detroit has moved ahead with his scheme, having managed to dupe both the police and his fiancée. The stakes are high. The heat is on. Will Adelaide forgive Nathan his trespasses? Will Nathan finally settle down and marry his fiancée of fourteen years? Will Sky be able to earn the forgiveness of the formidable Sister Sarah, and will Sarah overcome her wounded pride and conservative sensibilities enough to recognize her affections for Sky?
Spatial availability within the Hale Theater marks a certain challenge for directors, the thrust stage and limited size making creative use of space absolutely necessary. I was amazed at the transformation the crew was able to render, effectively bringing the vastness of New York City to the set. Lighting (Cody Swenson) helped to tone various locations and sculpted settings cleverly. I was particularly impressed by this facet during the transition from New York City to Havana—more through the effects of lighting than set changes, this one scene felt drastically different from the one preceding it.
The set design (Bobby Swenson) itself remained simplistic, making for relatively easy transitions. The cast handled set transitions well. Constantly shifting locations could have become cumbersome, but using the stage as a blank canvas helped this production to avoid long breaks between scenes. A few token set pieces in each scene helped with continuity, tying individual scenes back to the action in the play.
Costumes (Maryann Hill) merit special mention. Giving life to each character and providing a spectacle of color and line on stage, the costumes were one of my favorite facets of Guys and Dolls. Each wardrobe brought its own force and presence to the stage, clearly embodying the character of its wearer. Adelaide’s wardrobe, in particular, brought a vibrant pop of color every time she entered, making it a treat to see the thought put into every scene’s apparel.
I appreciated this production’s integration of musical numbers into the plot. Musicals often lead up to songs, take a break away from the narrative to sing, and then jump back into the story; such was not the case here. It was refreshing to see Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics incorporated into the action of the play, advancing the plot and giving nuance to the story. The actors’ individual and collective voices fit the timbre of the show well and set Hale Center Theater’s production of a classic musical apart. It had distinct shape and diction, and I was able to hear and understand the performers well. “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” “Luck Be a Lady,” and “Adelaide’s Lament” felt particularly strong in their delivery.
Fans of the classic Sinatra/Brando film will surely find satisfaction in the vocal performance of Hale’s Guys and Dolls. The choreography fit the story, and well executed performances added to the viewing experience. The Hot Box Dancers, in particular, gave a united performance, and I found myself looking forward to each scene featuring their recital. The execution of the script itself managed to capture the heightened language and slang with a casual ease. Gangster vernacular was delivered with a charming ease, and allowed for the piece to showcase a well-caricatured slice of the past.
Though a light story with frivolous content, the acting showcased was anything but. It was refreshing to see powerful acting chops put to such good use, and director David Morgan’s direction gave a real gravity to the script. The actor portrayed grounded emotion, giving expressive performances that didn’t allow the frippery of a musical to rob any depth from the story. I enjoyed seeing Carter Thompson’s Nathan Detroit playing the part with nuances that rounded out his character. His delivery afforded for wonderful comic timing, and though caricatured at times, the over-the-top nature fit within the world of the play.
Blake Barlow, as Sky Masterson, managed to capture the salty swank and charisma of a true gangster, his deliberateness in gesticulation and word emphasis absolutely entrancing. Brittni Smith’s Sarah Brown managed to remain timid, assertive, and darling all at once, and it was wonderful to see the chemistry between Sarah and Sky unfold over the course of the evening. Scott Rawlins as Nicely Nicely Johnson, and Riley H. Groves as Benny Southstreet were magnetic in their delivery, and the dynamic appropriately hilarious. Sackett’s “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” remains one of my favorite moments of the evening.
The real stand-out of the evening for me, however, was Kelly Hennessey as Miss Adelaide. From posturing, to affected intonation, and overall performance energy, she absolutely stole the show. It was wonderful to see an actress convey such love for the stage, and the payoff was extraordinary. Her positive manipulation of the energy of the production uplifted the scene every time she was on, making it an absolute delight to watch Hennessey’s expressions of heartbreak and charm.
Overall, I was very impressed with this production of Guys and Dolls. The classic musical is treated with due respect, and the final product shines. Technical elements coupled with a powerful cast to round out the evening in a charming, magical way that only theater can. Guys and Dolls runs through the tenth of August, and I would heartily recommend you get your tickets before this show is sold out.