Wednesday, May 31, 2017


Reviewed by James Karas

Energetic, precise, enjoyable, athletic, marvelous – these are the words that kept swirling in my head as I watched the Stratford Festival’s production of Guys and Dolls. Much of the credit goes to Donna Feore who directs and choreographs the production. It is this season’s big musical offering and it is done superbly.

The musical which opened in 1950 has won so many awards over the years that if it were a general and the awards were medals, his chest would have to be expanded several times over to make room for all of them.
 Members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The New York underworld of floating crap games, tough guys, crooks, a dizzy blonde, a beautiful and upstanding Salvation Army sergeant set in the streets of Manhattan, night clubs, gambling joints, a mission and Havana provide great latitude for humour, song and dance.

You know that Sky Masterson (Evan Buliung) bets that he can take Sergeant Sarah Brown of the Salvation Army to Cuba for dinner. And that Nathan Detroit (Sean Arbuckle) has been engaged to Miss Adelaide (Blythe Wilson) for 14 years. Her mother thinks that they have been married for years and have a bunch of children.
Members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The two men have their problems with their women and we must work through them. There are other colourful characters like Big Julie (Beau Dixon) the nasty gambler from Chicago and Angie the Ox (Sayer Roberts), Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Steve Ross), Harry the Horse (Brad Rudy), Benny Southstreet (Mark Uhre) and Lt. Brannigan (John Kirkpatrick). You are better off imagining them than requiring further description.

The backbone of the musical and this production is the ensemble of gamblers and Hot Box dancers.
 Blythe Wilson (centre) as Miss Adelaide with members of the company in Guys and Dolls. 
Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
The singing by Buliung, Arbuckle, Wilson, Gordon and the others is good and we laugh at the jokes. But the energy and joy are produced by the ensemble performance. From Michael Gianfrancesco’s sets of the streets of New York to the opulent burlesque scenes to the extravagant costumes by Dana Osborne and the superb kaleidoscope of lighting by Michael Walton, we are treated to extraordinary production values.

Add Feore’s amazing choreography and the ensemble performances of the men and women and you get a built-up of energy that electrifies the audience. The miraculous relationship between stage and audience occurs that is so essential to a live performance and so thrilling when it happens.

What a show.      
 Guys and Dolls  by Frank Loesser (music and lyrics), Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows (book) based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon, opened on May 30 and will continue in repertory until October 29, 2017 at the Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, Ontario.

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