A Classy Production Of The Classic ‘Guys And Dolls’

Works that are considered classics are usually works that became classics for a reason. And this is definitely true of Guys And Dolls, a 1950’s musical currently onstage via MNM Theatre Company that has passed the test of time and gone on to become one of the most beloved staples of the canon in the seventy years since. 

This well-constructed comedy follows Nathan Detroit’s quest to find a place to hold his “permanent floating” crap game as he continues to dodge the law (as represented by the persistent Lt. Brannagan) to do so. When Nathan needs a thousand dollars for the use of the Biltmore garage as a covert location, he conspires to get it by betting legendary gambler Sky Masterson that he cannot take the conservative “mission doll” Sarah Brown with him on his planned trip to Havana. 

Brown is not only a “mission doll,” leader as she is of the local chapter of the Save-A-Soul mission, but determined to rescue as many wayward gamblers as she can from their sinful lifestyle. Yet Guys and Dolls is far less a show about “gambling,” per se, than a show about love; and perhaps, a show about the gambles we make every time that we fall in love, especially when we fall in love with someone who seems as completely wrong for us as star-crossed Sky and Sarah initially seem to be for each other. The metaphor of gambling is also apt for thinking about Nathan’s 14-year-fiance Miss Adelaide, as she decides to sacrifice year after year of youth in the hopes that her commitment phobe will finally give in and waltz her down the aisle. 

Real life couple Sean William Davis and Caiti Marlowe take the stage as in-show sweethearts Sky and Sarah, a factor that likely helped the two actors to convey their characters’ improbable chemistry. As Sky, Davis’s deep voice helps him to exude a sense of being suave and mysterious enough to tempt even the buttoned-up Sarah. 

Photo by Amy Pasquantonio

It’s a perfect contrast to Marlowe’s sweeter soprano and aura of untouchability. Marlowe also excels at delivering a complete change of energy and loss of inhibitions after her character unwittingly consumes some milkshakes spiked with Bacardi, though the direction of the scene perhaps leant towards showing her to be a little over-the-top sloppy. 

If I had to name cast highlights, though, that honor might go to their counterparts, Larry Buzzeo as Nathan and Leah Sessa as Adelaide. Buzzeo carries many of the show’s scenes with his consistent charm and charisma, and Leah Sessa succeeds both in landing Adelaide’s high-energy comedic numbers and in conveying enough genuine disappointment with her situation to evoke our genuine sympathy. 

Though these two love stories are at the core of Guys and Dolls, its landscape is also populated by a slew of supporting characters; the crew of crap-shooters who are regular participants in Nathan’s debauchery, Sarah’s mission associates, and the backup dancers who support Adelaide’s nightclub act at the “Hot Box.”.

Photo by Amy Pasquantonio

In an interesting touch, two traditionally male gambler characters were made female for this production’s sake; Rusty Charlie, one of the trio who sings opening scene-setter “Fugue For Tinhorns”, is played by Alexandria Thomas, and high-rolling out-of-towner Big Jules is played as “Big Julie” by actress Colleen Pagano. 

While changing Charlie’s gender had little effect on the play’s proceedings (though it was certainly to nothing’s detriment either,)  a few funny moments emerged from the decision to have Pagano play Julie as a sort of over-confident ditz and for the “big” in her name to be implied to refer to the size of her womanly endowments.

As Nicely-Nicely Johnson, one of Nathan’s gambler henchman, Tommy Paduano delivered in a big way in terms of both vocals and intensity in his Act 2 show-stopper “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat.” But both he and Geoffrey Mergele as Benny seemed a little uncertain during earlier numbers, including the aforementioned “Fugue” and the characters’ duet “Guys And Dolls.” 

This, though, may have been partly due to somewhat uneven choreography; as some numbers, like the one in which Sky and Sarah live it up in Havana, seemed to offer unusually compelling dance sequences, the steps in others came across as somewhat awkward and forced, which in turn had the effect of making certain performances seem likewise off-kilter.

But minor blips like these are truly negligible considering the amount of talent that’s on display and that the script of what some critics have referred to as a “perfect musical” is really one that carries itself. For instance, the show’s title song was still a highly enjoyable one, pairing as it does fun and clever lyrics with the articulation of an inexorable truth about the eternal sway that only “Janes” can hold over “Johns.”

Photo by Amy Pasquantonio

Other supporting actors who stood out for the unusual amount of personality with which they imbued their characters include Michael Materdomini as the slick Harry The Horse, Randall Swinton as stingy garage owner Joey Biltmore, and Kat Gold as overeager mission associate Agatha, with Gold also adding some impressive notes to the mission characters’ harmony numbers.

This production was also no exception to MNM’s consistently high production values, with both a set by Cindi Blank Taylor and costumes by Penny Williams critical to creating the show’s absorbing affect of transporting us entirely to a different and perhaps more sincere time. So, if you’re up for a trip back to the fifties, a barrel of laughs, and a genuinely affecting love story, there’s no reason not to see Guys And Dolls before it closes up shop on this coming April 16th!

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