Reviewed by George Basler
Gambling might not be your thing. You may never have set foot in a crap game or hung on the rail of a race track. But here’s a sure bet for you: If you head to the Watters Theater at Binghamton University, you’ll have a wonderful time, courtesy of a joyous production of the classic musical Guys and Dolls.
BU’s Theater Department has rolled nothing but sevens and elevens in staging this tale of gamblers, hustlers and chorus girls. The show is filled with energy, pizzazz and, yes, a dash of heart.
Of course, BU is working with material that is pure gold. Guys and Dolls is at the top of anybody’s list of musicals from Broadway’s so-called “Golden Era” of the 1940s and 1950s. It won five Tony Awards when it opened in 1950 and is still a staple of high school drama departments.
The show is based on two stories by the celebrated newspaperman and short story writer Damon Runyon, who made a career out of writing humorous and sentimental stories about denizens of Broadway and Times Square in the days before those locales were Disney-fied.
A team of Broadway masters then turned the stories into a vibrant, upbeat musical that radiated the feel-good optimism of the era.
The book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows is a textbook example of how to integrate a story line into musical numbers. And what musical numbers they are. Frank Loesser’s score (he did both the music and lyrics) is filled with songs of absolute brilliance, from jazzy numbers to ballads to satirical send-ups of corny nightclub tunes. The lyrics sparkle; the melodies are catchy. In short, the score is traditional Broadway at the highest level.
Guys and Dolls makes no pretense of seriousness. The characters are stereotypes, but delightful stereotypes. There is no hidden message. The goal is simply to give the audience a smashingly good time. And what an honorable goal that is.
Credit for the BU production goes to Anne Brady, the show’s director, and David Wynen, its choreographer. Brady’s direction never allows the action to drag and avoids the temptation of camping it up or winking at the audience.
Wynen’s choreography is energetic and inventive. The show’s two knockout numbers, “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boa,t” are staged extremely effectively. Other highlights are the nightclub dances that are delightful parodies of every kitschy production number that you’ve ever seen. “Take Back Your Mink” even includes a kick line worthy of the Rockettes.
The cast from the leads to secondary characters are all aces. Most importantly, they work marvelously well together.
Robert Edwards is dashing and humorous as gambler Sky Masterson. His singing voice is a bit thin in some numbers, but his charismatic stage presence more than makes up for this.
Christine Skorupa is a joy as Sister Sarah Brown, the starchy Salvation Army “doll” whose heart is melted by Sky. Skorupa’s performance gives the character real spunk, and she sings with a clear and distinctive voice.
Gregory DeCola is wonderfully funny as the commitment-phobic hustler Nathan Detroit. While the character is a broad one, DeCola successfully keeps it from turning into a manic cartoon.
Equally successful is Brenda Darcy as Nathan’s much put-upon lady love, Miss Adelaide, a headliner at the Hot Box nightclub. Again, the character is a broad one, and Darcy’s New York City accent seems a bit over the top at first. But, on opening night (Nov. 9), she settled into the role nicely, making the character sweet and vulnerable as well as funny.
Darcy does a smashing job in her musical numbers. Especially inventive was her teaming with DeCola on the number “Sue Me.” Also impressive was her teaming with Skorupa on “Marry the Man Today.” In other productions I’ve seen, the song can seem anticlimactic because it comes after the show stopper “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat.” But that’s not the case in the BU production.
Speaking of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat,” Aaron Penzel as Nicely-Nicely Johnson does indeed bring down the house with the song. And Michael Farley-Kelly sings “More I Cannot Wish You” in a sweetly effective way.
While some of the attitudes in Guys and Dolls seem a bit quaint by today’s standards, the show remains an invigorating romp. Binghamton University’s respectful and skillful production shows why the show is a timeless classic.
The scenic design by Laura Fine Hawkes and costume design Andrea Lenci-Cerchiara are also first rate. Watching the stage hands skillfully maneuver the sets between musical numbers is almost worth the price of admission by itself.
IF YOU GO: Performances of Guys and Dolls will be at 8 p.m. today (Nov. 11), Nov. 16 and 17 and at 2 p.m Nov. 18, at 2 p.m. in the Watters Theater of BU’s Fine Arts Building. Tickets are $18 ($16 for faculty, staff, seniors and alumni; $10 for students). Call 777-2787 or visit anderson.binghamton.edu.