New York City Theater
"Guys and Dolls"
With a book by Jo Swerling and raconteur Abe Burrows, matched to Frank Loesser’s extraordinarily tuneful music and witty lyrics, “Guys and Dolls” is one of the stage’s true gems. Based on story and characters by chronicler Damon Runyon, it tells of the flavorsome gamblers who prowled Manhattan’s mean streets. But the current revival is all snake eyes.
Roll these names around: Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet, Rusty Charlie, Harry the Horse, Angie the Ox, Big Jule, Liver Lips Louie. What a group: the funniest and most endearing bums that ever mopped up the sidewalks of New York.
And those are the secondary characters next to gambler Sky Masterson, virginal Salvation Army doll Sarah Brown, small-shot Nathan Detroit and loving, flu-ridden Adelaide, to whom Nathan has been engaged for 14 years. Marry them to “A Bushel and a Peck,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” and you’ve rolled a seven.
But, alas, this production, as directed by Des McAnuff is unable to even get the simplest jokes right (e.g. the “cider” punchline is played so far upstage that the gag is lost). The evening is leaden, not helped by an actor representing Runyon himself, wandering in at the oddest times, ostensibly observing and taking notes.
Except for moments with Lauren Graham’s touching Adelaide or JimWalton’s Harry the Horse, Glenn Fleisher’s Big Jule and John Selya’s dancing talent, no one truly connects with the material. In fact, they look rather frightened.
The colorful denizens in “Guys and Dolls” may be timeless. But it’s not just the material, the treatment which, here, is second-rate.
David A. Rosenberg
April 5, 2009