Guys and Dolls and Showstopping Dance
Note: Extended to Nov. 5, 2017
About 14 years ago when I first started writing reviews, I was often asked to critique community theatre shows. I had just returned from a trip to Broadway when I wrote about a very good community theatre production and I was quite kind to them. However, the starring amateur actor insisted that their production “could stand up to anything on Broadway.” When I inadvertently grinned at that comment, assuming he was joking, he took offence.
It’s a long way to New York City from small-town southwestern Ontario. But Guys and Dolls, now on stage at the Stratford Festival, has completely closed that gap. If you have never seen a big time musical on Broadway, head over to Stratford to see Guys and Dolls. This is 100 percent Broadway quality.
As I tried to explain to the amateur star, Broadway shows have the whole package. The orchestrations are perfect and the music surrounds and fills the audience. The lighting, costumes, and sets draw you in. And the talent – acting, singing and dancing – is perfect.
Director Donna Feore has constructed the whole package filling it with expertise and energy. And the audience on opening night was appreciative. Twice the show was stopped with the long and loud applause for the powerful dance numbers.
Guys and Dolls, which first appeared on stage in 1950, is a humorous story that compares two couples against a backdrop of saints versus sinners. The sinners are the gamblers looking for a crap game and sexy dolls who dance in the night club, while the saints come in two styles: The Save A Soul missionaries (Salvation Army style) and the cop who tries to thwart the crap shoot.
Among these people are the two couples — gambling organizer Nathan Detroit, who’s been engaged to Hot Box Dancer Miss Adelaide for 14 years, and Sky Masterson, a lucky gambler who takes missionary Sarah to Cuba on a bet. The story unfolds as the two unlikely couples come together.
Blythe Wilson leads a strong cast as Miss Adelaide. Her comedic talents, combined with her powerful singing voice, commands the audience’s attention whenever she’s on the stage. Her “Adelaide’s Lament” has the audience amused. Sean Arbuckle as Nathan Detroit keeps the audience laughing as the loveable rogue.
In some productions, one has the impression that Miss Adelaide only wants to get married for the sake of marriage. But with Wilson and Arbuckle, the audience is convinced that they really love each other, and the 14 year engagement is just the result of the times.
Alexis Gordon as Sarah Brown looks very much the missionary with her innocent face and sweet smile. In her third season at Stratford, she is comfortable in the role and this is her best fit so far. Gordon’s singing is beautiful: it’s effortless, easy and natural, and she wins over the audience completely with “I’ll Know”. Unfortunately, she doesn’t speak in a natural voice. Her over-enunciation and odd cadence are sometimes a distraction.
Evan Buliung gives us a Sky Masterson who is equally charming and deceptive. He makes you believe that he reluctantly fell in love with Sarah.
Steve Ross as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Mark Uhre as Benny Southstreet are the hilarious sidekicks. Ross’s solo “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” is rollicking good fun.
Laurie Murdoch as Sarah’s grandfather sings a beautiful rendition of “More I Cannot Wish for You”, his mellow tones in contrast with the hilarious Lisa Horner, who barks out the orders as the Mission’s General. Special shout out to John Kirkpatrick as Lt. Brannigan who puts the fear into cell phone users.
The high energy dancing and intricate choreography is what you’ll remember from Guys and Dolls, with the exciting Havana dancing and the gamblers rolling the dice In this Broadway calibre production, you will actually see what a showstopper is.
Guys and Dolls continues in repertoire until October 29th at the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Tickets are available at the Stratford Festival at 1-800-567-1600, or check www.stratfordfestival.ca
Photo: Left: Blythe Wilson (centre) as Miss Adelaide with members of the company. Right: Devon Michael Brown (top) with members of the company. Photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Guys and Dolls – 2017
Based on the story and characters of Damon Runyon
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore
Musical Direction by Laura Burton
Performed by Blythe Wilson, Sean Arbuckle, Alexis Gordon, Evan Buliung, Steve Ross, Mark Uhre, Lisa Horner, Laurie Murdoch, et al
Stratford Festival Theatre, Stratford, Ontario
May 30 to October 29, 2017
Reviewed by Mary Alderson