‘Guys and Dolls:’ Great possibilities when it finds right pace

The cast of Guys and Dolls. Photo by Hubert Schriebl.

The cast of ‘Guys and Dolls.’ Photo by Hubert Schriebl.

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2015 Telegraph Publishing LLC

High-rolling gamblers, low-life gangsters, free-spirited showgirls and sanctimonious soul savers take to the stage in a workman-like version of Guys and Dolls, playing through Aug. 22 at the Weston Playhouse.

Filled with wit, heart and hummable songs, Guys and Dolls is based on Damon Runyon’s stories “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure,” with a few characters cadged from “Pick the Winner.” The characters in Runyon’s stories were larger-than-life, they spoke in colorful slang, were humorous and sentimental – all perfect fodder for a post-war Broadway musical.

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, Guys and Dolls is one of the most tune-filled musicals to come out of Broadway; it kicked off what is known as Broadway’s Golden Age and became part of the American musical repertory. It all celebrates Runyon’s spirit and is a perfect Broadway musical.

WPTC performs 'Bushel and a Peck' from 'Guys and Dolls.' Photos provided.

WPTC performs ‘Bushel and a Peck’ from ‘Guys and Dolls.’ Tim Fort photo.

The story in a nutshell: Gambler Sky Masterson (played by Sean Palmer) will bet on anything, and he is challenged by Nathan Detroit (Samuel Lloyd Jr.), a man in need of a quick thousand dollars to guarantee the rental of the Biltmore Garage where he plans to hold a craps game, that Sky cannot take a pious female missionary (Andrea Prestinario) to Havana for dinner … a bet that, of course, leads to romance and a happy ending.

“Runyonland” is inhabited by a diverse group of low-lifes, do-gooders and grifters, including characters with colorful monikers like Benny Southstreet, Nicely Nicely Johnson, Rusty Charlie and Big Julie. It all adds up to a Technicolor cartoon fairytale about a New York City that really never was. Howard C. Jones’ wide open set offers all the colorful possibilities of a Road Runner cartoon and Karen Ann Ledger’s costumes skillfully capture both the ridiculous and the sublime (costumes for “A Bushel and a Peck” number may have come courtesy of Tweety Bird).

Seen during its preview performance, there is much to admire in the playing – especially by Andrea Prestinario and Marissa McGowan, who capture the spirit of the piece and enhance their performances with expert comedic timing and stunning vocal work. In fact, the music throughout, under the direction of Larry Pressgrove, is stellar.

'Marry the Man Today.' Photo by Tim Fort.

‘Marry the Man Today.’ Photo by Tim Fort.

What is lacking here is both pace and focus: The opening “Runyonland” sequence is ill-defined and pointless, merely a blur of bodies signifying nothing. Things pick up with “Fugue for Tinhorns” because the singing is splendid. But once we get into a scene, the performances are spiritless, as if they are simply going through the motions until another song needs to be sung. Michael Raine’s choreography, while often athletic, lacks inspiration (although “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” ends in dynamic fashion).

Director Malcolm Ewen needs to tighten the pace and define these larger-than-life characters. The basics are there but the execution is far too tame – the antic acceleration that should propel this show rests firmly in second gear. This lack of energy makes the lengthy Act I seem almost interminable.

Still, there are enough high points overriding the low ones to make this production worth seeing. This Guys and Dolls has great possibilities and, as the production continues to play before audiences finding the laughs and defining the characters, this could turn into a wonderful evening of musical theater.

Guys and Dolls continues through Aug. 22 at the Weston Playhouse, 703 Main St., Weston. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. For tickets and information, click here or call 802-824-5288.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeReviews

About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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