That the revival of “Guys and Dolls” that opened at Broadway’s Nederlander Theater reflects merely the conventional and uninspired should come as no
surprise. Frank Loesser’s 1950 musical comedy ranks as one of the greatest in the American theatrical canon. So it brings a well-prepared audience and one with haughty expectations. A notorious gambler himself, Frank Sinatra made a hit of “Luck Be A Lady”, popularizing it with his signature smoothness. In the show’s 1992 Broadway revival, Nathan Lane brought such bold physical comedy to the role of Nathan Detroit that New York Times theater critic Frank Rich compared him to a young Jackie Gleason. Paired with Faith Prince, the quintessential character actress, the duo made chemistry that would make anyone’s beaker bust with joy.
But there is something essentially disappointing about this production. Perhaps it is the “American Idol” school of singing and acting that dominates it. The singing is loud and the acting, absent of emotional depth, is callow.
While there are few highlights to this revival, Kate Jennings Grant as Sarah Brown, the missionary who recruits Sky Masterson (Craig Bierko) is an affecting stage presence. Fortunately, she has a pretty voice. More importantly, the romantic intrigue between Sarah and Sky is believable.
A somewhat smug Nathan Detroit, Oliver Platt carries the tunes, but fails to bring any particular comedy to them. (With a somewhat hoarse and monotone voice, he certainly isn’t a crooner.) Sadly, Lauren Graham’s portrayal of Adelaide, the woman he’s been engaged to for fourteen years, calls on all too obvious clichés about the dumb blonde. Without any particular character of her own, playing dumb here turns out to be the dumbest thing to do. Since the two don’t really send sparks in each other’s direction, the show’s culminating wedding scene feels awkward and anticlimactic. In fact, the entire production feels contrived and controlled.
On the rare occasion when the actors veer beyond the staid and predictable, the results are only cartoonish. Such is the plight of Mary Testa’s General Cartwright. A riveting character actress with terrific comedic sensibility, her mugging and phony vocal affect aren’t edgy here. Steve Rosen’s Benny Southstreet, on the other hand, captures something of the character’s quirky existence. Finally, Tituss Burgess (Nicely-Nicely Johnson) brings sweetness and energy to “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”. His evocation of the classic black entertainer with wide eyes and open gestures stepping from chair to chair at Sarah Brown’s “Save a Soul Mission” is delightful. But Sergio Trujillo’s finest choreography arrives at the top of Act II with the all male ballet staged in a sewer, the setting for Nathan’s “permanent floating crap game”.
While Paul Tazewell’s costumes capture the characters and the period, Dustin O’Neill’s anachronistic use of video projections, especially an airplane that feels like it’s soaring into the audience, do nothing to evoke the period. Des McAnuff who helmed the phenomenon “Jersey Boys”, fails to capture the essence of this classical musical comedy or the Broadway underworld that it paints.
Based on Damon Runyon’s stories, the characters of “Guys and Dolls” are the lot of assorted folks who surrounded the razzle-dazzle of Times Square. Nathan Detroit’s crap game was illicit albeit innocent street entertainment. His beautiful doll Adelaide danced her way through life in a Times Square Club, “The Hot Box”. Even though daily life was rife with petty crime, these Runyonesque lowlifes expressed an essential goodness. More importantly for the purposes of this musical comedy, they had the dramatic knack of getting totally carried away with themselves. One could wish that were so here.
By: Isa Goldberg
Guys and Dolls
208 West 41st Street (Between Broadway and 7th Avenue)