Rolling the Dice with Guys and Dolls
The action begins in Guys and Dolls with a plethora of characters moving around the stage in all directions. You don’t know where to look first – the bum drinking out of his flask hidden in a paper bag? The bobby-soxers giggling? The lady tossing her fur stole over her shoulder? The big musical dominating the stage this year at the Shaw Festival promises lots of action in the exciting opening number.
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 the 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 dates missionary Sarah on a bet. The story unfolds as the two unlikely couples come together. This Shaw production has four strong leads in these roles.
Jenny L. Wright is charming as Miss Adelaide, a darling little kewpie doll. She contrasts delightfully with Shawn Wright who is a perfect Nathan Detroit. Wright is able to show us that he truly does love Adelaide, while not being able to commit to marriage.
Kyle Blair starts out dripping in coolness as the formidable gambler Sky Masterson. Blair’s voice has that sound of a 40’s singer, the songs rippling as if they were on an old-timey radio show. Blair does justice to the favourite “Luck be a Lady”. Elodie Gillett has fun with the role of Sara Brown, moving from the prim and proper missionary in her Salvation Army bonnet to the Havana dancer enjoying her Bacardi.
Thom Allison as Nicely-Nicely steals the show with his song, Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat. Allison is a favourite at the Shaw, and the audience responds like pilgrims at a revival meeting. Of course, his popularity may also reflect the power of TV. Thom has been in theatre for many years. I first noticed his talent in 2000 when he appeared in The King & I at Huron Country Playhouse. But he got a loud and long standing ovation, in part thanks to his appearance as a charming judge on the CBC TV Show “Over the Rainbow”. I certainly do not intend to diminish his performance in any way – it was worthy of the ovation – however, it seemed like everyone in the audience felt they “knew” Thom!
These five characters bring the action to the production, as promised in the opening scene. But lacking in this show are male dancers for the crap shoot number. Of the ensemble, only three are really good dancers, meeting the demands of the catchy song and showing the frenzy of rolling the dice. It may have been forgivable to have the others just moving about in the background. But in their need for better dancers, females were dressed in zoot suits and fedoras and sent them out as men. This unfortunately just gives the impression of being at a high school production.
The women make up for this lapse with their dance numbers in the Hot Box night club. Miss Adelaide and The Farmerettes in “A Bushel and a Peck” are delightful, and they add humour with “Give Back the Mink”.
Overall, it’s a wonderful night out with a variety of fun costumes and an interesting, versatile set. Guys and Dolls is a light-hearted story with five strong actors in the lead roles. Shaw should have strong ticket sales.
Guys and Dolls continues in repertoire at The Shaw Festival, Niagara on the Lake until October 12. For tickets, visit www.shawfest.com or call 1-800-511-7429.
Guys and Dolls
Written by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Music & lyrics by Frank Loesser
Directed by Tadeusz Bradecki
Choreography by Parker Esse
Musical direction by Paul Sportelli
Performed by Elodie Gillett, Kyle Blair, Jenny L. Wright, Shawn Wright, Thom Allison, et al
Festival Theatre, Shaw Festival, Niagara on the Lake
April 12 to October 12, 2013 Extended to Nov. 3
Reviewed by Mary Alderson