Regional Reviews: Phoenix
Subtitled "A Musical Fable of Broadway," Guys and Dolls centers on a group of colorful New York City residents including a pair of gamblers and the ladies in their lives. Nathan Detroit, who runs the "oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York," can't find a location for his next game due to constant pressure from the police. Detroit thinks he's found a good spot but the owner demands $1,000 upfront, which he doesn't have. He decides the best way to get the cash is to strike a bet with fellow high roller Sky Masterson, who is known to bet on anything. The bet they make is that Sky won't be able to get a girl that Nathan chooses to go to dinner with him in Havana.
Sky takes the challenge only to find that the girl Nathan picks is the pious leader of the local Save-a-Soul Mission, Sarah Brown, who is trying to save the souls of the gamblers in the area. While this turns out to be bit of a problem for Sky, since Sarah believes Sky's intentions aren't legitimate, Nathan has romantic problems of his own due to his impatient fiancée of fourteen years, Miss Adelaide. Pressure mounts for this foursome as high stakes gamblers demand Nathan set a location for the game; Sky finds himself falling for Sarah; Adelaide believes Nathan has given up gambling and decides it is time they finally get married; and General Cartwright, the leader of the missionary, threatens to shut down Sarah's location since they've failed to convert any sinners.
Based on the short stories of Damon Runyon, and with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys and Dolls won the Tony Award for Best Musical, ran for 1,200 performances on Broadway, and won the 1951 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Runyon's characters are brought vibrantly to life through Swerling and Burrows' charming book and Loesser's fantastic songs, which include the upbeat showstoppers "Luck Be a Lady," "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" and the title song, the romantic numbers "If I Were a Bell" and "I'll Know," plus several superb comical songs.
ASU Lyric Opera Theatre's production features some exceptional vocalists and comic actors. With expert comic timing and a firm grasp of her character, Brynn Lewallen is sensational as Miss Adelaide. She doesn't play this part in the traditional "ditzy blonde," a fresh take on the character. Her solo "Adelaide's Lament" is expertly delivered. Sara Sanderson's excellent vocal skills provide clear dulcet notes in Sarah Brown's many beautiful songs and she embodies the part with a refined sense of hope and sincerity. As Sky, Lane Northcutt delivers exceptional singing abilities ,and Adam Sowards has fun with the many frantic moments and frenzied situations Nathan Detroit finds himself in. While I didn't quite buy either Northcutt or Sowards as these slightly seedy gambling men, mainly due to their youthful looks and sweet stage presence, they both form realistic couples with Sanderson and Lewallen, respectively, and all four deliver superb performances of Loesser's well-known songs. Lewallen and Sowards' rendition of "Sue Me" is excellent as is Northcutt and Sanderson's "I've Never Been in Love Before."
In supporting parts, Drake Sherman is a comic gem as Nicely Nicely Johnson. He uses gestures and props such as a bag of potato chips and stalks of celery to make the role pop with comical glee and he also does a sensational job leading the showstopper "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," where Nellie Shuford as General Cartwright gets a fun breakout moment. Michael Devery brings a sweet, loving charm to the part of Sarah's grandfather and Chris Meisner is great as the frantic Benny, one of Nathan's buddies. For this production the character of Big Jule has been changed to a woman, and Erin Kong has fun with the part, instilling this domineering character with a strong sense of power over the men around her, though she lacks a bit of the menace that is needed to make the moment when she bets against Nathan truly make sense. Eric Williams and Ricco Machado-Torres provide some comical voices in their parts that add to the lunacy.
Director Toby Yatso and choreographer Molly Lajoie keep the pace upbeat and lively with Lajoie's varied choreography exceptional. Miles Plant's music direction derives superb vocals from the cast and a sensational sound from the large and excellent orchestra. The scenic design by Alfredo Escarcega presents a New York City street with neon lights and pieces that rotate to quickly change locales, though I wish the backdrop had more color and substance, as the large black buildings painted on the drop seem at odds with the colorful and creative sets. Jessica Florez's costumes and the hair and makeup by Sharon Jones are lovely representations of the period, and Jeff Jann's lighting evokes some lush nighttime moments which are nicely offset by the bright daytime scenes.
Full of fun characters and a score with non-stop hits, Guys and Dolls is a classic musical in the truest sense. With solid direction, impressive choreography, and joyful performances by this talented cast, even with just a few very small shortcomings, ASU Lyric Opera Theatre's production is still a blast and a lovely presentation of this classic show.
Guys and Dolls at Arizona State University / Lyric Opera Theatre runs through November 20th, 2016, at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre in the ASU School of Music, 50 E. Gammage Pkwy in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased and information on upcoming productions can be found at https://music.asu.edu/lyric-opera-theatre/current-season.
Based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon
Sky Masterson: Lane Northcutt