Reviewed by James Karas
Guys and Dolls is the Shaw Festival’s big musical offering and it should keep audiences entertained until October. The 1950 show by Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows has both the advantage and the disadvantage of familiarity for most theatregoers but that should not detract anything from this production.
Based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls is pure New York – the New York of the underworld where gamblers are looking for a safe place for a crapshoot, the cops want to arrest them and the Salvation Army wants to save their souls. That may seem unreal, and for that reason the musical is properly subtitled a “fable of Broadway.”
The chief gangsters are Nathan Detroit (Shawn Wright) and Sky Masterson (Kyle Blair). Nathan is an inveterate gambler who cannot find a place for his game because the police are after him. Wright does a good job and gets most of his laughs. His New York accent is decent but not perfect (this applies to most of the actors in varying degrees). There is not much demand on his vocal chords and the tough/comic character is what counts Wright delivers him.
Nathan and his doll Miss Adelaide (Jenny L. Wright) provide the comic romance of the plot. The latter has a high-pitched, comic voice and has been engaged to Nathan for 14 years. She tries to reform him as she waits for him to marry her. In the meantime, she is telling her mother that they are married and have four children. A shoe-in role for Wright and she does not miss a beat.
Blair as Sky Masterson is tall, handsome, well-dressed and has a reasonably good voice. Masterson is the man who bets $1000.00 that he can take Sarah Brown, a Salvation Army sergeant, to Cuba for dinner. Elodie Gillett is blonde, pretty and can sing well enough to get Sky to fall in love with her. We want both the comic and serious romances to work.
Guys and Dolls does have one seriously or almost seriously evil person in Big Julie (Aadin Church) who comes from Chicago and pulls out a gun on the other gamblers. Church looks and acts the tough guy but in the end he is not so bad.
Much of the comedy lies in the secondary characters, a bunch of colourful gamblers with names like Nicely-Nicely (Thom Allison), Benny Southstreet (Billy Lake), Rusty Charlie (Kelly Wong) and Harry the Horse (Evan Alexander Smith). They are sinners that are promised to Sarah for her Save-a-Soul Mission. The result is, of course, hilarious.
There are fast ensemble pieces, dance routines and nice melodies. “Adelaide’s Lament,” the familiar “Luck be a Lady” and the more than a dozen other numbers create energy, humour and fulsome entertainment.
Director Tadeusz Bradecki and Choreographer Parker Esse maintain a fine pace and onward momentum. Set Designer Peter Hartwell gives a black-and-white image of Broadway as if we were looking at old photographs of New York.
The company does not have any outstanding singers but the overall production is enjoyable._____
Guys and Dolls by Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows opened on May 11 and will run in repertory until October 12, 2013 at the Festival Theatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. www.shawfest.com.