For character comedy, romantic nostalgia, unforgettable tunes and cleverly inventive lyrics there’s really no beating Guys and Dolls.
For performances as close to perfect as cuss is to damn, there is no beating the Shaw ensemble.
For a night out that packs a dash of Frank Sinatra, a pinch of Marilyn Monroe, and a whole lot of belly laughs into a romantic evening par excellence – you won’t beat this without a time machine.
Let’s face it, the Broadway musical, particularly in the 1950’s, was a sentimental and unserious beast; dancing sailors, scantily clad chorus lines, and a straight couple who are really in love but can’t see eye to eye until the end of act two are all as predictably present as the Old Faithful steam geyser and Guys and Dolls is a definitive classic of the kind.
In this case, the dancing sailors are dancing New York gangsters in romantic entanglements with showgirls and beautiful but prudish Salvation Army officers – with just about equal narrative weight going to Sky Masterson (the Frank Sinatra part) falling for Sergeant Sarah Brown, and the craps playing Nathan Detroit and his fiancé of fourteen years, Miss Adelaide, the star dancer at the Hotbox club.
Nathan bets the high–rolling Sky a thousand bucks he can’t get the moralistic but gorgeous street preacher to go on a date, and the rest is as familiar and archetypal as Adam and Eve the musical.
The play is definitely a time capsule from an age when women were expected to marry a manager at the A&P, smoking in pregnancy was fine, compulsive gamblers just needed the right woman to go straight, and getting your non–drinking date drunk was a just little bit naughty.
We know better now, but the delusions of the past don’t affect entertainment value in the present. Frank Loesser’s lyrics will tickle anyone who understands spoken English, and the performances are utterly fantastic, which is pretty much the Shaw standard.
The show probably belongs to Elodie Gillett’s alluring Sergeant Sarah. Lithe and winsome, with demure composure hiding explosive energy and a megaton of charisma apt to send her limbs delightfully akimbo, Gillett is a little atypical physically but makes the part unquestionably her own. Voice like an angel on a good day never hurts, either, and her If I Were a Bell could seduce a rock.
Kyle Blair interprets Sky Masterson the big shot gambler untouched by love with admirable and important restraint. He relies on cool composure and prodigious good looks to create a solid center of manliness in a show on high boil, saving the smoulder for his show–stopping Luck Be a Lady.
Such unflappability in a cast as swarming with unstoppable charm as a Big Apple sewer with cockroaches might not have done his talent justice with many audience members, but he definitely anchors this exuberant cast in an essential way. The restraint very generously serves the show. The funny is funnier, and cool is cooler because of it.
Costume certainly played a big part in creating the role for these actors; Gillet gets the sexiest high heels ever seen on a Sally Ann soldier, and Blair’s suits seem a bit clean and bright for a man at home with shady dealings from Reno to Havana, but it’s always to Shaw’s credit that the actors and designers make each production distinct from any other.
Though set in technical gold as ever, the performances really are the gem here. Jenny L. Wright as the never–a–bride Miss Adelaide carries an enormously demanding role with impeccable timing, grace and sex appeal. Shawn Wright, as the reluctant fiancé gambler Nathan Detroit is every bit as likable and note perfect, making a quietly masterful counterbalance to the Gillet and Blair romantic leads. Thom Allison’s Nicely–Nicely, and Aadin Church’s Big Jule just cannot go unpraised in a cast worthy of more praise than could possibly fit in this review.
Unlike many shows at the Shaw this is not liable to be repeated in the near future, and if you love musicals it’s an interpretation worth making every effort to see. The summer is coming to a close, but the Shaw season is not. Students, and the simply frugal, keep an ear to the ground for seat sales, and see this if you can! V
GUYS AND DOLLS
Until Nov. 3.
@ Festival Theatre
10 Queen’s Parade ,