SANDY — Guys and Dolls is an iconic 1950 Broadway musical whose songs have entered into the American songbook—in other words, they’re part of our culture. If you’re like me, you’ll walk into the parking lot singing one of them.
Hale Centre Theatre’s production of the classic musical, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, is entertaining and impressive. Directed and choreographed by Dave Tinney, Guys and Dolls features excellent acting, fun dancing and fabulous singing.
The show is headlined by a quartet of talented actors, starting with Josh Richardson as Nathan Detroit, an oddly named New York gambling kingpin who isn’t that great at kingpining. His love interest is the long-suffering exotic dancer Miss Adelaide, portrayed by Kristi Curtis. In a sharp contrast to their long standing relationship, the other romantic couple, Sky Masterson (played by Derek Smith) and Sarah Brown (played by Rachel Woodward Hansen), are literally thrown together as a bet.
Speaking of betting, there’s a lot of it in this show. The plot revolves around gamblers’ lust for money and women. And before the end, the good guys (or rather the lawbreakers we identify with because they’re the main characters) come into both.
Richardson shined as Detroit, and I loved his performance every time he was onstage. He was real, likeable, and relatable as a down-on-his-luck gambler. All four leads had strong singing voices, particularly the effortless-sounding Hansen. Curtis gave just the right reading to Adelaide—instead of being a generic New York stereotype, she portrayed a strong, relatable woman who just happens to be in NYC. And I’m just glad she sang “person” instead of the typical “poy-son” in “Adelaide’s Lament.”
The biggest applause of the night went to Alec Powell as Nicely Nicely Johnson, whose gospel-inflected “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” threatened to raise the roof. In an entertaining piece of casting, evangelist General Cartwright (played by Genesis Eve Garcia) doubled as a strip tease superfan, mouthing every lyric at a local gent’s club from the front row. (Someone really had fun creating those anatomically correct poodles for the showgirls number.) The rest of the small-feeling cast of 19 was strong across the board, with no weak links among them.
The biggest let-down of the show the choice to reimagine “If I Were a Bell,” as a black-out drunk number. While Hansen’s physical comedy of the scene was impressive and amusing (there was a particularly impressive leap into Sky’s arms), it deprived her and Sky’s characters of all romantic development. The scene also came back-to-back with a wildly over-the-top Havana bar brawl, meaning a solid 20 minutes of the show was devoted to wild, flailing, drunken (and often violent) physical comedy.
I doubt even a gambler would fall in love with someone because she became a violent drunk like that. What’s he going to say, “Hey babe, I loved how you knocked out every single innocent person in the club tonight, let’s go out sometime”? I haven’t seen too many glaring directorial mistakes at Hale, but this was a big one. Plus, for a theater that sanitizes shows with a overzealous vengeance (they cut out a cigar joke from Matilda, for crying out loud), it is surprising they would blow out the drunkenness of Guys and Dolls to levels far beyond a reasonable reading of the show.
Costumes (designed by Jenn Taylor) and sets (designed by Kacey Udy) were up to Hale’s usual high standards. I particularly adored Sky and Sarah’s Havana costumes. When she departed, Sarah wore a high-collar blue frock, perfect for an uptight evangelist. After returning from a hedonistic awakening in Havana, she wore it unbuttoned in the airport, the small but savvy touch of a costumer who knows what she’s doing.
Tinney’s director’s note mentions Guys and Dolls as one of the best constructed musicals ever. I can’t say I agree. It seems like a show about Nathan and Adelaide gets hijacked by Sarah and Sky. And the double-marriage ending comes out of nowhere. Still, it is timelessness is beyond reproach.
Also, this is not a show for those easily offended by 1950s gender roles. If you have any question where this show stands on its views of men and women, please consult its name. In this world, there are guys, dolls, and nothing in-between.
This production had more technical problems than I have seen at Hale before. Garcia’s mic did not work for an entire scene. Curtis had to ad-lib for a broken purse strap (garnishing earned laughs as she diffused the situation), and there were more than a handful of other fallen props or costume pieces. It was a technically impressive show, but Hale puts their tech up as professional-level, and this night they failed to meet those standards.
Despite the things holding this production back, this is likely the best version of Guys and Dolls many Utahns will ever get a chance to see, and I recommend it. It won’t change anyone’s life or have the emotional or moral resonance of other 1950s classics like West Side Story or even The Music Man, but it is a fun night. Just one more question: Are you feeling lucky?