Review by Danny Gaisin
Frank Loesser’s interpretation of a couple of Damon Runyon short stories has become a Broadway standard. Every song of the show’s twenty is not only memorable but sing-able even out of context. Under Donna Feore’s direction & her choreography; “♫ it’s better than even money ♪” that folks will remember it fondly for years to come…we certainly will and I’ve lost count of the times we’ve seen it.
The two plots deal first with a hustler, his illegal crap game, and his long-suffering showgirl fiancée. The other story is about a gambler and a Salvation Army-type naif. The support characters are just that – Characters!
All our published Stratford photos by Cylla von Tiedemann
Not only are the songs fantastic; the lyrics are pure poetry and ingenious to a fault. The opening Fugue is about which horse deserves a bet. When the tinhorn gamblers advocate ‘Adeline’; or “Paul Revere”; maybe ‘Valentine’ (he’s on the ‘morning line’), or Epitaph (he wins it by a half); sung and debated by the hustler Nathan Detroit’s sidekicks –Benny Southstreet and Nicely-Nicely Johnson; we wanted to actually place a bet. The former is Mark Uhre and his New York twang is faultless. Nicely-Nicely is a dynamic Steve Foss who’s “Sit down, sit down” aria is a show stopper that becomes another big chorus number. Speaking of chorus numbers, the title song; the ‘Havana dance’; and all the Hot Box cabaret numbers are pure Feore gems. The female dancers are the equal of the best of The Rockettes. A little something negative – Blythe Wilson’s ‘Miss Adelaide’ sings “Pretty” instead of ‘Purdy’; “Person” instead of ‘poisun’; and “words” rather than ‘woids’. A real Manhattan-ite would be needing subtitles.
The principal role of Nathan Detroit – Adelaide’s nemesis, is Sean Arbuckle and he’s a hoot. Trying to juggle his ‘business’; his girlfriend and all his manipulating is a role to die for, and if he can’t find a spot for the game – he may! The gambler is Sky Masterson and Evan Buliung has all the ‘cool’ such a persona requires. Somehow, I kept seeing physical images of ‘Frazier’s’ Kelsey Grammer, not only facially but in mannerisms. His tenor voice is certainly equal to the task but in the duets with Alexis Gordon’s Sarah Brown, he’s outmatched. He may outsmart her, but she certainly out-sings him.
I must admit to a bias about the play. Saw it first back in the fifties; loved the Runyon tales; met the writer’s son; and always wax positive about the composer. Don’t know about the other audience members, but my muse had to suffer with my complete reprising the score from downbeat to curtain.
GUYS & DOLLS is at Stratford’s Festival Theatre until October 29th. “♫ it’s a probable 12 to 7 ♪” – you’ll love it too. What could be a more positive critical accolade?