WBT's 'Guys and Dolls' pays off!

Published: Tuesday, April 23, 2013 7:00 am By: John P. McCarthy Source: The Journal News

guys and DollsIt’s no fluke that “Guys and Dolls” is still being staged 63 years after it premiered on Broadway. With songs and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by blacklisted scribe Abe Burrows, this musical theater mainstay stands the test of time.

Much of the credit goes to Damon Runyon, on whose writings the show is based. Wedding his hilariously hard-boiled vernacular with Loesser’s starry lyricism was a stroke of genius. The popular 1955 movie version starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando has also contributed to its longevity. (If Brando can sing the role of Sky Masterson, it’s difficult to dissuade any Tom, Dick or Harry.)

Westchester Broadway Theatre’s new production, running through early June, captures every facet of the play’s appeal. In the parlance of street dice or craps, they’ve rolled a natural. With a uniformly spot-on cast, well-conceived choreography and impressive tech work, this “Guys and Dolls” is a winner. Patrons are in luck.

The action centers on two couples in New York’s Times Square. To raise money for his notorious floating craps game, Nathan Detroit bets high-roller Sky Masterson he can’t get straitlaced missionary Sarah Brown to accompany him to Havana. While Nathan scrambles to find a venue for his illicit diversion, Sky woos Sister Sarah, who’s having trouble reforming degenerate souls.

Complicating Nathan’s efforts are a pesky cop and his own fiancee, Miss Adelaide, the nightclub singer to whom he’s been engaged for 14 years. Nathan loves her, but can’t commit.

Adelaide is arguably the best of the four lead roles and Allie Schauer delivers a concisely funny turn.

Presumably, her resemblance to Faith Prince, who won a Tony for the part in the 1992 Broadway revival, is no accident. Michael Brian Dunn brings ample energy to Nathan, playing him as a wiry, endearingly shifty wag.

As Sky, Gary Lynch channels Brando’s suave masculinity but, thankfully, displays more vocal chops. Courtney Glass’s light-opera voice fits Sarah, and the actress excels when her character lets her hair down aided by a local Havana flavoring called Bacardi.

Jayson Elliott is fantastic in the show’s plum secondary part, Nicely-Nicely Johnson, and as missionary Arvide Abernathy, Tony Triano brings a show-stopping dose of fatherly pathos to his number “More I Cannot Wish You.”

Director and choreographer Richard Stafford offers a seamless, crisply presented entertainment. He finds the right amount of tongue-in-cheek merriment, even flirting with kitsch, while being respectfully traditional.

The production is visually sumptuous, thanks to Andrew Gmoser’s lighting design, especially in the Havana café scene and during Act II’s irresistible ditty “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” The costumes by Derek Lockwood are appropriately loud and lavish and great use is made of WBT’s hydraulic platform for Nathan’s subterranean dice game.

When it comes to sexual politics and today’s societal norms, “Guys and Dolls” is hardly progressive, yet there’s nothing retrograde about Loesser’s melodies or the show’s Runyonesque slang. Mounting it isn’t a huge gamble, but when done right — as it is here — the payoff is significant.

After all, what’s more exhilarating than a hoodlum falling for a dame, and vice versa?