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With the recent rise in Broadway revivals of classic musicals, such as Bernstein's On The Town and the recent star-vehicle Gigi with Vanessa Hudgens, it came as no surprise when UNC School of the Arts announced that their musical offering would be Frank Loesser's smash hit Guys and Dolls.
There never seems to be an inappropriate time to revive Guys and Dolls. Its tuneful melodies and whimsical story of gamblers throwing the dice at love, fate, and crap games has been revived three times in New York and three times in London, the most recent star-studded New York one featuring Oliver Platt and Lauren Graham.
It's a timeless story that never gets old: Set in newspaperman Damon Runyon's fantasy-like New York, Nathan Detroit finds himself trying to rack up some cash for the latest crapshooters game. He turns to Sky Masterson, the charming gambler who has never lost a wager, and bets him that he can't woo missionary girl Sarah Brown. All the while, Nathan's girlfriend, Adelaide, finds herself wanting to tie the knot on their 14-year engagement.
The story and score are timeless. Music Director Dale Rieling propels his singers and 30-piece orchestra to professional status, the highlights being the tightly harmonized ensemble numbers and the sweet songs for which Loesser is so respected. (Mason Hensley delivers a heartfelt "More I Cannot Wish You" which stopped the show.) One of the biggest strengths of this production is the way the cast delivers Loesser's score, freshly and enthusiastically. It was very satisfying to hear people laughing at the wordplay in a song like "Adelaide's Lament," proving that these musicals haven't lost their power to amuse.
UNCSA's Guys and Dolls is a treat for the senses. The enormous sets by Garret Daub create seamless transitions from Times Square to Havana to the sewers of New York; the costumes that accompany these scenes pop like pieces of Bazooka chewing gum. Al Crawford's lights are pure Broadway magic and complement Daub's set flawlessly.
Of particular note is Broadway veteran Edie Cowan's delicious choreography. Her dances are inventive and fun homages to the early Broadway styles – influenced by vaudeville and classical dance. "Crapshooter's Dance," a showstopper in any production of Guys and Dolls, was a knock out and worth the price of admission.
Director Gus Kaikkonen has assembled a fine group of young talents – although his staging doesn't utilize them to the best of their abilities. Nick Gordon and Meagan Kimberly Smith are a perfect couple as Nathan Detroit and Adelaide but their scenes falter at times due to Kaikkonen's one-dimensional staging. The same problem occurs in the scenes between Sarah Brown and Sky Masterson (played amiably by Kira Geiger and Kyle Habberstad) and in the opening "Runyonland" sequence – which is a perfect opportunity for a director to play with pulling the focus to different places on the stage. Instead, Kaikkonen's staging seems a bit static at times, having actors stand in a line facing the audience during their scenes rather than using the enormous empty space that sits behind them. But all of this can be overlooked for a rewarding experience thanks to the humor and charm of Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows' book.
The four leads are cast to perfection: Meagan Kimberly Smith's Adelaide was a standout for her salty and sweet personality. The entire cast was exceptional. Other standouts include Josh Popa's Phil Silvers-like Nicely Nicely Johnson, who brought down the house in the second act with "Sit Down, You're Rockin’ the Boat," and Luis Quintero's Big Jule was a textbook example of subtle physical comedy.
I should just say this: It is a hit. That simple. I cannot wait to go back again next week and have the most fun I've had in a theater in a while.
It's a "sure bet" you will too.
The show continues through Sunday, April 19. For more details on this production, please view the sidebar.