One of the most popular musicals ever written, Guys and Dolls by Frank Loesser is playing at the Lexington Opera House through Sunday in an enjoyable touring revival by Big League Productions.
Directed by Jeffrey B. Moss and choreographed by Bob Richard, this is a big, brawny show that translates the urban demimonde of Damon Runyon novels into musical theatre terms. Loesser’s score is a treasure-chest of familiar songs, and the script by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows achieves the blend of gamblers, showgirls, and the Salvation Army through hard-boiled wisecracks and sincere platitudes. The production design elements capture the glitz and the grit in a satisfying way.
At Friday's opening night performance, the leading actors are all very good. Todd Berkich as Nicely Nicely Johnson employs a funny high voice to help his character stand out from the other gangsters and fulfills the most famous song, Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat, with a sense of glee. Mike McLean plays Nicely Nicely’s sidekick Benny Southstreet with comic verve, and together they make a humorous foil for the two romantic couples. Their rendition of the title song is one of the highlights of this show.
Matthew J. Taylor makes a convincing Sky Masterson, believable both as a gangster and as a convert, and Kayleen Seidl plays the evangelist Sarah Brown as somewhat dour and repressed, even when cutting loose. They both have nice voices that serve their songs pleasantly, although Luck Be a Lady owes more of its wallop to the excellent singing and dancing of the male chorus than to Taylor’s understated charisma.
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Of course, the comic couple, Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide, has the best lines and the catchiest songs, and Christopher Swan and Lauren Weinberg, respectively, make the most of them. Swan is gifted at comic mugging: his face tells the story the whole time, and his stage energy sparks the rest of the company. The hilarious character of Adelaide almost always steals the show, but Weinberg reins herself in to supplement and balance the others in a very professional interpretation of the role.
The company also boasts several fine cameo performances, especially John Ryan as Sarah’s grandfather Arvide Abernathy, Jesse Graham as the Salvation Army’s head honcho General Cartwright, and John Galas as the little gangster Big Jule. The ensemble is also great; in fact, some of the best numbers in this production are not the more famous songs, but the choreographed sequences like the cityscape Runyonland that begins the show, the tropical Havana, and the exciting Crapshooters’ Dance.
If you are in a hurry, this might not be the show for you. The first act lagged both in scenes and transitions, clocking in at a full hour and a half. By the time you add intermission and Act Two, be prepared to invest at least three hours at the theatre. Thankfully, Guys and Dolls is a familiar, even beloved, classic of the American musical theatre, and this production certainly does it justice, its longueurs notwithstanding.