Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An agreeable GUYS AND DOLLS @ The Shaw that forgets it takes place in New York

GUYS AND DOLLS is the consummate American musical.  Set in New York, it contains all the brash sounds of the city and attitudes of the “gangstas,” “gamblas” and underworld characters written about so vividly by humorist and author, Damon Runyon.  From the horseracing betting open number (“Fugue for Tinhorns”), to street preaching of the mission band (“Follow the Fold”), this is a farcical look at what makes the “Big Apple” the fast paced and outlandish place that it is.

Runyon’s short stories, THE IDYLL OF MISS SARAH BROWN and BLOOD PRESSURE, form the basis for GUYS AND DOLLS.  Frank Loesser’s lyrics and Abe Burrows’ book, integrate together to make this a well written musical, and earning it the fourth spot on the list of the “Top 100 Musicals of All Time.” 

Probably no one knew New York as well as Runyon.  In fact, the adjective “Runyonesque” refers to the well etched characters and the type of situations and dialogue that Runyon depicted.

The story line centers on local gamblers, plus a big shot from Chicago, all depending on Nathan Detroit to set up “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York.”  Unfortunately, Nathan doesn’t have the $1000 payment for the place.  He bets Sky Masterson that the handsome professional gambler can’t get a date with Sarah Brown, the up-tight moralistic leader of Times Square mission.  To add to Nathan’s problems, Miss Adelaide, his long time fiancée, is determined to get married, right now (“Adelaide’s Lament”)!  Of course, in the end, as happens in all good musical comedies, everything turns out  right (“Marry the Man Today”).

The strong score includes “I’ll Know,” “Guys and Dolls,” “If I Were a Bell,” “My Time of Day,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “More I Cannot Wish You,” and “Sue Me.”

The show has stories that make for theatre lore.  For one, Vivian Blaine was originally cast as the conservative Sarah.  When it was determined that she was not right for the role, the part of Miss Adelaide was written specifically for Blaine’s comic talents.  In addition, the show was selected to be the winner of the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.  But because writer Abe Burrows was censured by the House Un-American Activities Committee, the award was never given and there was no Pulitzer Prize for Drama awarded that year.

For GUYS AND DOLLS to be completely successful requires a personal understanding of Runyon’s New York.  Unfortunately, director Tadeusz Bradecki seems unschooled in Big Apple shenanigans and dialect.  The production is too leisurely paced, lacks the necessary razzle dazzle, “duh” characters don’t “tawk” right, and the show lacks spontaneity.  This is New York, not Toronto!  New Yorkers, especially the shady characters of this script, simply aren’t as proper and nice as the Canadians who are playing them on the Shaw stage.

This isn’t to say the show is bad, just not everything it should be.  The choreography is well conceived, the orchestra is excellent, and the costumes are era correct.

Jenny Wright steals the show as Miss Adelaide.  Her versions of “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” and “Take Back Your Mink” are all show stoppers.  “Sue Me,” her duet with the delightful Shawn Wright (Nathan) was a fun filled romp.

Thom Allison does a great job with “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat.”  Handsome Kyle Blair physically and vocally fits the role of Sky Masterson.   His “Luck Be a Lady,” was well sung.  Peter Millard (Arvide Abernathy) does a nice rendition of “More I Cannot Wish You.” Unfortunately, Elodie Gillett has none of the under level warmth nor charm needed for Sarah Brown and gives a surface level performance. 

Capsule judgement:  GUYS AND DOLLS is a pleasant production, but lacks the dynamics and Runyonesque qualities to make it a great show.  Too bad.  With a little bit of Yankee flair, it could have been excellent.  “More I Cannot Wish You.”

GUYS AND DOLLS runs through November 3 in the Festival Theatre. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit or call 1-800-511-7429.