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Review: Otterbein’s Rollicking Guys and Dolls

Richard Sanford Richard Sanford Review: Otterbein’s Rollicking Guys and DollsLeft to right: Noah Rockne (as Nathan Detroit) and Payton Tevis (Miss Adelaide) in the Otterbein Summer Theatre production of "Guys and Dolls." Photos by Mike Mineart.
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For almost 70 years, Guys and Dolls, with its book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows (based on Damon Runyon’s short stories), and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, has charmed and enthralled audiences. Otterbein Summer Theatre’s sizzling production, directed by Lenny Leibowitz (also conducting the orchestra from the piano for original music director Samuel Clein), and choreographed by Stella Hiatt Kane, highlights Loesser’s witty, earworm-filled score and dazzles with eye-popping exuberance.

Left to right: Tatum Beck (as Sarah Brown), and Mathieu Wiesner (Sky Masterson).

This “musical fable” highlights the wrong-side of the tracks (in this case Broadway in midtown) love story of the breezy, charming gambler Sky Masterson (Mathieu Weisner), back in town after some time, and tightly wound mission sergeant Sarah Brown (Tatum Beck), stymied in her quest to do good. This love plays out against hustler Nathan Detroit (Noah Rockne), proprietor of the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York,” and his long-suffering fiancée of 14 years, cabaret dancer Miss Adelaide (Payton Tevis).

The leads here are beautifully cast. Weisner brings an interesting vulnerability to Masterson. He understands that every true con artist succeeds by letting the mark in, including just enough tells that he wants to be caught without flashing it like a neon sign. Beck’s Brown vibrates with a keen sense of physical comedy, whether turning inward as she questions her life’s mission with her foil Abernathy (a rock-solid Daniel Kunkel) or exploding, as in the kaleidoscopic Havana brawl-dance sequence. 

Their voices spark off one another, making chestnuts recorded countless times organic and in the moment: both duets like “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and for-the-ages take on “I’ll Know,” and solos like Beck’s wild, lusty “If I Were a Bell” and Weisner’s slow-burn ode to desperation and chance “Luck Be A Lady.”

The delightful chemistry of Rockne’s Detroit and Tevis’ Adelaide leaves no doubt these characters belong to one another but doesn’t downplay how often they want to kill the other. Rockne has an interesting, crazed animal quality that gives heft to the character’s neuroses. Tevis makes clear Adelaide is a force on-stage and off, the sense that her character is there because she wants to be is important. Tevis’ rousing duet with Beck, “Marry the Man Today” set the walls shuddering at the performance I saw; and the centerpiece with Rockne, “Sue Me,” summoned a sweetness without going saccharine.

Just like the original Runyon, the fabric of this cartoonish New York is as important as the main plot, and Leibowitz, Kane, and cast do not disappoint. Highlights include Evan Kret’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson leading a trio with Jeremy Holder and Stephen Blauch on “Fugue for Tinhorns,” and fronting an explosive chorus on “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”

The Otterbein production treats the bulletproof Loesser score and charming Runyon characters lovingly and never like a museum piece. Other audience members walked out whistling and humming these songs both at intermission and after the curtain. A perfect, fizzy summer entertainment.

Guys and Dolls runs through July 20 with performances at 8 p.m. Thursday, and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For tickets and more info, visit otterbein.edu/theatre-performances/guys-and-dolls.

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