Wowza, yowza! You gotta go see this show! Familiar characters, both in hue, personality and occupation, as well as sparkling performances by gifted performers – what else could you want? Singing and dancing their hearts out, this cast is superb. Damon Runyon would be proud of this production.
The sparkle began when Nathan Detroit’s trio of henchmen, led by Benny Southstreet (Greg McCormick Allen) and including Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Todd Buonopane) and Rusty Charlie (Allen Galli), came onto the stage and stood in awe before the stage-sized, darkened, neon theater lights that said Guys and Dolls. All the while they are acting like themselves and, under Benny’s direction, the other two go off stage and brought back a ladder and a key. Then Benny climbs up the ladder, inserts the key into the sign, and it snaps into blazing color.
The audience cheers and the overture “Runyonland” begins with men and women coming onstage and acting out little stories of their lives. Three bobby-sockers come on, in cardigans, circle skirts, and the required saddle shoes and bobby socks. They giggle, skip, and tell each other stories as they self-consciously make their way across the stage. Three sailors on leave come from the opposite side of the stage and the six eye and flirt with each other but the girls go off. A matron with fur stole goes across the stage, followed by a slight bellboy carrying a stack a four or five dress boxes for her. Sophisticated women stroll across with fluffy, little, leashed dogs that roll smoothly on. Hustlers and women of questionable virtue size each other up. A salvation mission band comes and tries to “save” the gamblers and questionable women. The staging of these small incidents were a wonderful introduction to 1930s Manhatten.
The set arranges itself after the “Guys and Dolls” sign rises into the upper stage and becomes a city street with as newsstand. The initial three gamblers/hustlers come on and start singing “Fugue for Tinhorns”: “I’ve got the horse right here. His name is Paul Revere.” And we slip effortlessly into the life of people that police sergeants and detectives are interested in.
Nathan Detroit (Daniel C. Levine) comes on and our favorite trio asks if he has a place yet for his “oldest, permanent, floating crap game in New York”. Nathan is up a crick unless he can find a place. All his usual haunts are closed to him and the one remaining option wants $1000 rent. He also can’t let his showgirl/fiancé-for-14-years Adelaide (Billie Wildrick) know about the crap game because he’s promised her he’ll give it up, for 14 years.
Nathan’s only hope is to get big-time gambler Guy Masterson (Brandon O’Neill) to make a bet that only Nathan can win. Guy is no dope but he has a big ego. So Nathan bets him that he can pick out a woman whom Guy can’t take to Havana. Guy accepts and Nathan selects “the mission doll” Sarah Brown (Katherine Strohmaier), the young woman who preaches on the streets. Guy accepts and Nathan thinks he has a sure thing. So there you have it. The guys Nathan and Guy have doll problems. This is the crux of the story.
The singing was superb. I really enjoyed Katherine Strohmaier whom I haven’t seen before. She has a very well trained voice that could hold its own with the strength and power of an opera singer. I also really enjoyed seeing Billie Wildrick as the sexy Adelaide. Her rendition of “Adelaide’s Lament” is masterful. She is so wonderfully expressive. I first saw her at the Harlequin in “Rock and Roll 12th Night” as a Madonna-esque Olivia. I’d also seen Brandon O’Neill at the Harlequin in their summer musical revue, then at the 5th Avenue in “Rocky Horror” and subsequent roles. This was a real step up for him. He’s matured and so has his voice. He’s a wonderful singer. The Harlequin in Olympia has been a real breeding ground for competent actors/singers/dancers.
Daniel C. Levine (Nathan Detroit) is new to me. He is very engaging as the gambler trying to be a mensch for his beloved Adelaide, but without having to marry her or give up his crap game.
Laura Kenny was as good as she’s always been. My first viewing of Laura was at a TAG production of “A, My Name is Alice…” when she came on the stage, bearing a music stand over her head, dramatically plunked it down and read a poem with the conclusion of every verse being, “HE did it!” I’ve seen her in several Seattle productions since then and it’s always a pleasure.
Greg McCormick Allen is another treasure. I’ve seen him in several 5th Avenue productions and he is always a joy. He played Ozzie in “On the Town”. Todd Buonopane as Nicely-Nicely Johnson has a powerful voice, as shown in his show stopper at the mission, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” And of course I can’t leave out Clayton Corzette who played Sarah’s grandfather. I first saw him at TAG in a production of “Billie Bishop Goes to War”, a very powerful production with comedic moments. He’s still great.
Besides the great Frank Loesser’s clever, character-driven songs and Abe Burrows wonderful script with the street gangster patois, I enjoyed the way the show was staged. While the story is familiar from other productions and the Frank Sinatra/Marlon Brando movie, Peter Rothstein did a masterful job of creating scenes that were fresh, new and had sharper character defining moments. I really enjoyed the opening with the gambler trio turning on the Guys and Dolls lights as well as the Runyonland denizens street scenes. Rothstein paid more attention to the supporting actors’ stories than I’ve seen before. His differentiation of Nathan as more of a working-class guy with a job to do and scrambling to do it, but also with commitment-avoidance issues rather than the ultra-cool gambler Sinatra played was much more satisfying.
The costume palette was colorful, although it was not all in the primary colors usually seen. The men were in well-fitting but strangely autumn-colored suits. The Runyonland denizens were also in the autumn colors. I don’t remember ever seeing a vermilion circle skirt on a bobby-soxer before. There were virtually no pastels, but we didn’t miss them.
The only primary colors were used on Miss Adelaide and the Hot Box dancers. The Hot Box dancers’ chicken costumes in the “I Love You a Bushel and a Peck” number were hilarious. All the dancers, except star Adelaide, had bright yellow outfits with an enormous bustle with a nest with chicken eggs snuggled in it. Adelaide picked the eggs off their backsides during the song. She was dressed in a Shirley Temple blue and white checked gingham dress, but only until it was stripped off her black bustier.
This is such a good show. Loesser fans, Runyon fans, great singing and dancing fans will have a great time at this show. I want to see it again.
“Guys and Dolls” runs through June 5, not a long time so call the box office at 206-625-1900, on toll-free at 888-5th-4TIX, or go online to order through the website: 5thAvenuetheatre.org. The website allows you to see the seating chart as well.