In “musical theater” there are many classics – plays that have been around for years and years and are the reason that American audiences love this genre. One such classic is “Guys and Dolls” a stort based on the characters of Damon Runyon, a writer That loved New York and the characters that roamed the Times Square area back in the day. The characters that he wrote about were oddly named gangsters and those who entered their lives. This play was written back in the late 40’s and this production ( based on “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and characters from some of his other short stories), a time when New York was busting with gamblers and ne’er-do-wells. When Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling wrote the book and added the delightful music and lyrics of Frank Loesser, they brought that flavor to the stage and made America sing to the tune of these characters. It is not a play that is done often and I for one am glad to see it revived at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. marriott loves to mix its seasons with older classics and newer production,m often on their first run in a regional theater. For this revival, they have brought young Matt Raftery, who has donned their stage as dancer, and the became a choreographer and now is the director aswell as choreographer. This is his first directorial assignment and while it is not perfect, it shows that he is on the move in his career and with a few exceptions, he has done some very clever things in his interpretation of this show.
For those of you unaware of the storyline, “Guys and Dolls” centers on two me and two women and their relationships. First we have Nathan Detroit ( pronounced NATAN), a man who lives in the world of gamblers, but is NOT a gambler. He is an entrepreneur, who runs the crap game, taking his piece off the top as a sort of commission. While Rod Thomas continues to show us his comedic talents in recent roles, I thought he might have been slightly mis-cast in this role. Nathan is a true New Yorker and should be played as a man of Jewish heritage. I know that in the film, Sinatra did not play it that way, but Runyon pictured him as a Jewish person who ran a fairly successful business. If one pays close attention to the song he sings in Act 2 to his fiance of 14 years,””sue Me”, the words and the tone show this, without question. Miss Adelaide ( a wonderful portrayal by Jessie Mueller, one of three Mueller’s in this production) is a night club singer/stripper who loves Nathan with all her heart but would love for him to find another business. The other couple is Miss Sarah Brown, a member of the Save-A-Soul mission ( one of the finest portrayals I have ever seen by Abby Mueller) and Mr. Sky Masterson, a big time gambler ( Brian Hissong) who bets on anything, except love, and of course, love comes his way when he least expects it to.
The streets are filled with gamblers and hucksters as well as tourists from the opening number- overture “Runyanland” and I found this to be very cleverly put together by Raftery, using the aisles of the theater in the round as they were designed to be used. From her, we go to the “Fugue for Tinhorns”, the perfect introduction to the gamblers of the show sung by Benny Southstreet ( the always reliable Bernie Yvon), Nicely Nicely Johnson ( Deftly handled by George Andrew Wolff who does a smashing , show-stopping job with “Sit Down Your Rockin’ The Boat) and Rusty Charlie ( George Keating who not only does his gangster role but steals the scene with his waiter role as Sky and Sarah visit Havana Cuba- he makes every movement a moment to remember). From there we meet many other mugs of the streets of New York. Many o ftehse roles are smaller, with limited lines, but these ensemble players know how to make a character special and so a tip of the hat to Rob Rahn as Harry The Horse and the out-of -town visitor from East Cicero Illinois, Big Julie ( well played byJohn Lister, who many chicago audeince members know from his work at Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier- it is always a pleasure to see an actor change his “type” and show us just how deep his or her range is).
Two other sterling performances- standouts in this cast are Roger Mueller ( the 3rd of the family) as Arvide Abernathy, Sarah’s Grandfatehr/guardian who does a remarkable job with the touching “velvet I can Wish You” and the remarkable Anne Gunn as General Cartwright, who roves there ar eno small parts, only small actors. What she dos in her two scenes is incredible and she is just adorable in this role of the leader of the mission. Michael Aaron Lindner plays the role of Lt. Brannigan, one of New York’s finest who only wants to clean up his streets and the ensemble members that fill in the gaps prove once again the strength of these hard working actors/singer/dancers in making a production whole: Adrian Aguilar, Jameson Cooper, Nicole Hren,Brandon Kroller, Andrew Lupp,Andrea Prestinario,Laura savage, Holly Stauder, and Amanda Tanguay. As you can see, a small number of people who take on a great number of roles and so so with great flair and talent.
“Guys and Dolls” is still a delight to watch with great songs and some fun characters. It was nice to see Benny Southstreet’s character get just a little more to do and say, but I was also sorry that thye cut the Joey Biltmore scene and it helps to set the tone of Nathan’s trials and tribulations of running his business as well as his demeanor in running “The Oldest Established, Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York”. With just a tweak here and there, this production would have moved up to another level and would have been rated a 4 star production, Perhaps as the production continues, and it runs through March 27th, some little changes may take place to get them up to that level. The talent is on the stage and Raftery has the talent. I am sure, knowing how much of a perfectionist he is, he will make a few changes along the way and the actors will continue to grow into their roles, making “Guys and Dolls” a special moment for those who get the opportunity to view it.
The production schedule is as follows:
Wednesdays at 1 p.m. and 8 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 4:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 1 and 5 p.m.
Tickets range from $40-$48 a bargain for quality theater that Marriott presents year after year and seniors and students get a $5 discount at special shows. There are also dinner -theater packages available and there is plenty of free parking on the grounds of the Marriott Resort in Linclnshire, just south of Route 22/half day Rd and East of Milwaukee Ave./Route 21 in Lincolnshire.
You can also stop by the box office.
Seeing this smart production is no gamble on your part- just two hours of solid entertainment.