By Jean Lowerison | Theater Review
Touts, burlesque dancers and mission dolls meet in Frank Loesser’s classic musical “Guys and Dolls,” getting a spectacular production through Aug. 13 at The Old Globe in Balboa Park.
Certainly among the top five American musicals of all time, The Globe joins with Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Florida for a magnificently dance-heavy production based on Damon Runyon’s inimitable stories about life on the lower rungs of Manhattan society in the 1950s. “Guys and Dolls” opened on Broadway in 1950, won five Tony Awards, and has been a staple in the repertoire ever since.
You remember the story: Gambler Nathan Detroit, the go-to guy for a crap game, is having trouble finding a spot for the night’s action.
The heat is on and Lt. Brannigan is breathing down his neck. To make matters worse, Big Jule from Chicago has just arrived. He’s looking for a game, and you don’t disappoint Big Jule.
Meanwhile burlesque dancer Miss Adelaide, Nathan’s fiancée of 14 years, is pressuring him to make an honest woman of her — especially since she’s told her mother over the years that she’s not only married, but a mom of five kids.
Then there’s Sky Masterson, a bit short on cash, who takes Nathan’s sucker bet that he can take a doll — any doll, to be named by Detroit — to dinner in Havana. Cuba, that is. A win means Nathan can pay the local garage owner for space for the night’s game.
Nathan names missionary Sarah Brown, who works at the Save-a-Soul Mission. A sure bet, right?
That’s the setup and the inspiration for director/choreographer Josh Rhodes. This musical has it all — great songs like “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” engaging underworld characters and an interesting story.
This production has something else: spectacular choreography, the best I’ve ever seen in this show — starting at the top with a terrific danced overture to “Runyonland.” It’s muscular, athletic and altogether unforgettable.
The terrific cast starts with Veronica J. Kuehn, a stitch as the adenoidal Adelaide, whether taking (most of) it off onstage or begging Detroit for “that plain little band of gold.”
If you’re looking for a skinny, Frank Sinatra-like Nathan (that’s always my standard), J. Bernard Calloway will surprise you. He’s big, wearing a purple striped suit with a yellow shirt, and boy can this guy sing. He’s perfect.
Terence Archie is a kick as high-rolling Sky Masterson, who will (or won’t; I’ll never tell) take Sarah to Havana for dinner, where she will (or won’t) get so tipsy on dulce de leche that, well, her mission boss Arvide Abernathy (Ralph Johnson) would be scandalized.
Audrey Cardwell is perfectly cast as Sarah, the mission doll who can sing like an angel — but might be persuaded to come down to earth with the rest of us mortals.
This is a huge, totally capable cast, with insanely talented actors throughout, well accompanied by music director/conductor Sinai Tabak and eight other fine musicians.
Linda Libby, for example, is a hoot as head mission doll Gen. Matilda B. Cartwright, demonstrating holy grit and wailing on a really high note in “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”
It’s good to hear Ralph Johnson’s lovely ballad “More I Cannot Wish You” again (he’s played mission male Arvide Abernathy before), Ed Hollingsworth is amusing as Lt. Brannigan, and Lance Carter is a gas as hustler Harry the Horse. Steve Greenstein’s Big Jule is fun to watch as well.
Rhodes’ cast doesn’t mess with New York accents; they work more on the delivery of lines.
Production values are high, with fine work by set designer Lee Savage, costume designer Brian C. M. Hemesath, lighting designer Paul Miller and especially sound designer Kevin Kennedy.
You can’t do much better than this show. But in this production, it’s the choreography you’ll never forget.
—Jean Lowerison is a long-standing member of the San Diego Theatre Critics Circle and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.