Under Lee Cromwell’s imaginative direction and Terry LaBolt’s excellent musical leadership, this rousing show opened to kinetic scenes of people begging, purse-stealing, fainting, soliciting and marching to the beat of God’s drums — in other words, just another ordinary day on 42nd Street in New York, New York.
The ’50s musical “Guys and Dolls” tells the story of guys who like to shoot dice, and dames who want to get married. (Of course.) But what a lively crew of saviors and sinners danced and sang to the rhythms of LaBolt’s fine orchestra in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre Friday night! First there was Nathan Detroit, played with “Ah, shucks” likeability by Markus McClain. Unfortunately, New York’s finest have recently cleaned up Manhattan, so the affable Detroit can’t find a spot for their next illegal game. Renting the back of a garage for an easy grand is an option, and the other involves, well, finding a dry-enough sewer.
Meanwhile, a missionary crew marches past, led by Sgt. Sarah (Meghan Goodman), a no-nonsense missionary who has a tough, uphill climb trying to get the gamblers and dance girls to visit her mission.
Suave Sky Masterson arrives in town from points far west. Joey Birchler plays him with sophistication and sly bemusement. Detroit bets $1,000 (the amount needed for the garage) that Sky can’t entice Sgt. Smith to fly down to Havana with him. Sky and Sarah’s first duet, “I’ll know,” transforms the play from a bustling life in the big city review into a touching love story. How their lovely voices commingled when they described their dream “other.”
Kaitlyn Smith as the forever engaged (14 years and counting) Adelaide sang some wonderful numbers as the head act at the Hot Box Nightclub. But more touching and riveting were two of her duets. One with her fiancee, Detroit, where she tells him off for lying to her in “Sue Me.” The other compelling number, also in the second act, was “Marry the Man Today.” Here she convinces Sarah and inadvertently herself to marry the guy and correct him later.
Nathan Robbins put a whole lot of energy, humor and pizazz into his role as Detroit’s nimble assistant, Nicely, Nicely Johnson. Robbins performance was stellar all evening beginning in the early scene where he and Rusty, the talented Zach Decker, warmed up the audience in “Fugue for Tinhorns.”
About halfway through Act 1, the Havana scene displayed the colors and sensuality of a dream sequence. In that tropical Heaven, several Dulce de Leches transformed the uptight Sgt. Sarah into a woman who was unabashedly sensual, and of course, drunk as a skunk. “I don’t want to leave,” she told Sky.
But the highpoint of the evening was the testimonial scene inside the Save-a-Soul Mission. Nathan Robbins and most of the company sang a rousing, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” Using many of the conventions of revivals, most of the cast raised and shook their arms, bent their bodies backwards and forwards in unison, as Nicely, Nicely stood up, careened to another seat, and leapt onto Sarah’s desk. All the while the cramped mission space seemed to thrum with bodies swaying their hope and enthusiasm for Nicely’s testimony.
In this scene, Liza Gennaro scored with captivating choreography. It was also showcased in the Havana and sewer crap game scenes. The entire design team deserves kudos for placing us smack center in Manhattan with gorgeous set design by Lauren Ayn Lusk, and ’50s dresses, nightclub attire, and flashy plaid men’s suits by Johna Sewell. Dramatic lighting by Derek Jones and sound by Michael Steinbrenner added to the magic.
Will Sgt. Smith save Sky? Hint: his real name is Obadiah. Will Adelaide get hitched? Will the gun-toting Chicago crime king, Big Julie (played with a bully stance and sly humor by John Putz), ever shoot dice with real markings? Come see this well-conceived and finely performed production to find out. A show not to be missed.
If you go
WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance.
WHAT: “Guys and Dolls,” by Jo Swerling, Abe Burrows and Frank Loesser.
WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theater.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday.
TICKETS: $15-$25. Available at www.theatre.indiana.edu or call the IU Auditorium Box Office at 812-855-1103.