LEHI — There are some musicals that have stood the test of time, having entertained audiences and critics alike for decades. Guys and Dolls is one of those shows. Originally released in 1950, this comedic romp through the no-good gambling world of New York City can now be seen in a production by the Lehi Arts Council through August 6th.
Guys and Dolls is about a group of gamblers led by Nathan Detroit (played by Cameron Cowan), who sets up a nightly crap game for his zoot-suit wearing gambling friends. This includes the high risk gambler Sky Masterson (played by Luke Elison), who Nathan tricks into making a bet he can take a strict mission worker Sgt. Sarah Brown (played by Sierra Palmer Boren) with him on a short trip to Havana, Cuba. Sarah is working at a Salvation Army-type organization and is struggling to have her message impact all the sinners (mostly gamblers). So, when Sky promises to provide her with said sinners, she is easier to convince to go with him than Nathan could ever have guessed.
The music and lyrics for Guys and Dolls are written by Frank Loesser, with a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows based on 2 short stories by Damon Runyon. A lot of people might know the 1955 film adaptation, but that version has three new songs and eliminates five songs from the stage musical. There are parts of a show like this from 1950 that are going to be outdated. Certainly, modern writers would never create a show with such rigid gender roles. (The white picket fence life that Nathan’s girlfriend, Adelaide, sings about seems to be the only option for married men or women.) Nevertheless, one cannot deny the appeal of the Loesser songs and the charming depiction of the characters. This is not a gritty portrayal of organized crime; it is a fun lark the whole family can enjoy.
Chandler McArthur steals the show with her performance as Adelaide. She has the most memorable song with “Adelaide’s Lament,” and McArthur brings just the right amount of angst and humor to such a hilarious song. There is also a nice dynamic between McArthur and Cowan as Nathan particularly in “Sue Me” when she has had her fill with his antics.
I also loved Boren as Sgt Sarah. She has an absolutely beautiful soprano sound on “I’ll Know” and “If I Were a Bell,” and she and Elison have a nice chemistry as Sky and Sarah. The actors have to get the right amount of awkwardness for these roles, especially in the Havana scenes for this play work. Because Sky gets Sarah drunk, a sloppy portrayal could appear creepy and predatory, but that is not a problem in this production. The Havana section also has the best choreography of the show (created by Derrick Cain), with a whole group of Havana dancers that were excellent Latin ballroom dancers.
Director Gwen Wood has gender swapped a number of the gangsters, including Nicely Nicely Johnson (played by T’naiha Ellis) and Big Jule (played by Hadley Knight), which was probably a decision made out of necessity (typically, amateur groups have a lot fewer males auditioning than females). I particularly liked Ellis singing the iconic “Sit Down Your Rockin’ the Boat” number. It is nice to have such a strong song by a minor character at the end of a musical to give its audience a toe-tapping great time.
I have little nitpicks the Lehi Arts Council could have done better. The costumes by Amelia Schow for the Hot Box girls were a little strange, especially for “Take Back Your Mink,” where they were all wearing white bloomers with cape-like dresses over top. Also the show had only one set, which was included giant dice and a “Broadway” sign. It would have been nice to have the sign be removed or swapped out for the Havana sections. Additionally, the colors could have been amped up on most of the costumes. This Guys and Dolls did not have the zoot suit pizazz audiences want from these cartoonish gangsters. The suits generally looked like typical office attire, plus perhaps an oversized tie to give some flair.
Still, this Guys and Dolls is a small production with a terrific community spirit, and the singing was across the board exceptional. For an affordable price, audiences can see one of the classic Broadway shows, put on in their neighborhood with a lot of energy and spunk. Lehi Arts Council’s Guys and Dolls is a play that can be a great experience for the whole family. It’s a gamble you will be glad you made.