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REVIEW: Spectacular Summer Spectacular Take on Guys and Dolls (Guthrie Theater)

The cast of the Guthrie Theater’s summer musical production of Guys and Dolls, which opened Friday. Photo by T Charles Erickson.

A robust and hilarious production of Guys and Dolls awaits audiences at the Guthrie Theater.  This musical made its Broadway debut in 1950, adapting tales and characters from stories by Damon Runyon. Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows wrote the book for the musical; Frank Loesser wrote the musical.  In the Guthrie’s just-opened production, Director Kent Gash successfully weaves together all of the disparate elements into a fresh and funny take on this classic musical.

Guys and Dolls is about gamblers and the women who love them.  Although the comedy often centers on sexual stereotypes, the performers rise above stereotyping to create real characters.  The heart of this musical comedy rests with the show’s two power couples. The first is the 14-year-engaged couple of Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide.  Rodney Gardiner nimbly portrays the fast-talking Nathan Detroit, a hustler of crap games who truly loves Adelaide but can’t seem to bring himself to give up his gambling ways (or, actually commit to marriage).  Kirsten Wyatt is fantastic as Miss Adelaide, a burlesque performer whose comic style is reminiscent of Fanny Brice.  She is too good for Nathan, but he has her heart.  The comedic talents of Gardiner and Wyatt provide much of the show’s humor.

Jeremiah James (Sky Masterson) and Olivia Hernandez (Miss Sarah Brown) in the Guthrie Theater’s production of Guys and Dolls. Photo by T Charles Erickson.

The second power couple is Sky Masterson and Miss Sarah Brown.  Jeremiah James demonstrates great delight in playing the dashing and successful gambler Masterson, a man who thought he was satisfied with his life of gambling and fast women.  Olivia Hernandez earnestly plays Brown, the de facto leader of the local branch of Save-a-Soul Mission, a Salvation Army-like group that searches Broadway for sinners to save.  When James and Hernandez appear together, sparks start to fly and the audience can’t help but hope this unlikely couple gets together in the end.

Other notable performances include Karen Wiese-Thompson as the gangster gambler Big Jule and Regina Marie Williams as General Matilda B. Cartwright, a national leader for the Mission.  Williams especially stood out along with Justin Keyes and the ensemble in the musical number “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”, which brought the audience to its feet. (The ensemble excels with their energetic rabble-rousing dancing in this number.)

Scenic Designer Jason Sherwood’s backdrops provide a delightfully impressionistic view of New York City and Havana, Cuba.  His creation of an entire sewer system with use of only a manhole cover shows how minimal scenery can create the right atmosphere.  Dawn Chiang’s lighting design deftly complements Sherwood’s backdrops especially in the Havana scenes.  When James and Hernandez sing the classic “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” Chiang provides pink and purple lighting that injects romance into the scenery.

Kirsten Wyatt as Miss Adelaide and Rodney Gardiner as Nathan Detroit. Photo by T Charles Erickson.

Another visual injection comes from costume designer Kara Harmon’s eccentric palette of costumes, including cowboy tourists and zoot suits, adding colorful imagery.  The eclectic costumes are showcased in the overture and pervade every scene.

Dell Howlett’s skillful choreography flows easily from the style of Broadway choruses, to Latin rhythms and burlesque. Orchestrator Darryl Ivey led the orchestra from behind the scenery in the upper part of the stage, primarily visible during the overture. The music flowed freely during the scenes, never once upstaging the singers.

The freshness injected into this nearly 70-year-old musical creates an exhilarating evening of entertainment, making Guys and Dolls a perfect summer musical.

Hot Box Girls: Gabrielle Dominique (Ensemble), Kirsten Wyatt (Miss Adelaide) and Taylor Collier (Ensemble). Photo by T Charles Erickson.

Guys and Dolls plays through August 25 at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN.


Bev Wolfe