Theatre Review: Gallery Players’ Guys and Dolls is Mostly a Winner
Since premiering on Broadway in 1950, Guys and Dolls, the adaptation by Frank Loesser (music and lyrics) and Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling (book) of Damon Runyon’s witty world-askew stories has been a perennial crowd-pleaser with multiple revivals on Broadway and the West End and I’d wager there’s never a day someone in the US isn’t performing this catchy, infectious show. Gallery Players’ new production, directed by Mark Mann, opened last weekend at the JCC.
Long-suffering Nathan Detroit (Todd Covert), who runs the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York,” amidst other minor hustles, as he, with fellow gangsters Nicely Nicely (Ryan Kopyncinski) and Benny Southstreet (Kent D. Stuckey) tries to set up a large game when vice has closed off his normal venues, and fend off Lt. Brannigan (Brad Barbin)’s best efforts as well as his 14-year-suffering fiancée, burlesque singer-dancer Miss Adelaide’s (Amy Silver Judd) more desperate pleas for marriage. This intersects with renowned gambler Sky Masterson (Christopher Storer), back in town briefly, alternately trying to dupe and finding himself falling for Sister Sarah Brown (Kristin Yarger) who runs the mission in the chunk of midtown that serves as the other characters’ night time playground. The story still has its punch, the jokes work and the bitten-off language was always just abstracted enough it never aged badly.
Todd Covert and Amy Silver Judd are both astonishing here. A perfectly matched pair illustrating the wholesome, lower-rungs of an underground economy. Covert gets across just enough of the sadness of being torn between the stability of settling down and the rush of jumping on that merry-go-round again that his very funny performance is three dimensional, he isn’t just a henpecked schmendrick cliché. His singing, particularly with the great Stuckey, is rich and warm, heightening that tension between the soul inside Nathan Detroit and the man struggling on earth. Silver Judd’s comic timing is whip-smart and sharpened to a fine stiletto, and she digs into the most interesting role in the play. Adelaide’s terrific burlesque songs like “Take Back Your Mink” and the raging declarations like her stunning “Marry the Man Today” with Yarger both play great.
Being the “good person” in a world of joyous, fun, sinning can be a thankless task, on stage or in life. But Kristin Yarger, an actor new to me, takes on just that kind of role, Sarah Brown, and does tremendous things with it. Her hilarious drunken brawl in Cuba followed by a bright, sexy, “If I Were A Bell” that reminds us why that song has been a standard since the minute it first came off a Broadway stage but also makes the audience forget all those other versions as we watch her lean into it. Christopher Storer is the best Sky Masterson I’ve ever seen, he plays the implacable swagger well but has an interesting warmth and plays the ambiguity of the line where the hustle turns into real love as well as I think anyone has, as on the flirty show-stopping duet with Yarger, “I’ll Know.” His “Luck Be a Lady” almost vibrates with sensuality and with the rage and desperation of someone who finally found something to lose.
Kopycinski’s Nicely Nicely doesn’t have the low-end I’m normally looking for, most noticeably when singing with Stuckey’s perfect Benny Southstreet on the title song and the two of them with David Hammond’s hilarious Harry the Horse on “Fugue for Tinhorns.” But when he explodes into his signature piece, and probably the best song of the show, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” he soars. Denae Sullivan’s Arvide Abernathy is so charismatic – and nails her feature, “More I Cannot Wish You” – that I wish there was more of that character here, which I’m not sure I’ve ever done in earlier productions.
Mark Mann’s direction works beautifully when there are only a few people on stage but when the stage is bustling and a large group falls into formation under Jon Baggs’ great pop-art-cartoon sets it feels cluttered and ramshackle. Some of the blocking to create suspense, as when Brannigan sneaks up on the other characters just seems confusing and is hard to place in the stage.
The biggest negative at the performance I saw was sound. Early on, the orchestra had several alarming and rough moments in the overture as though they couldn’t hear one another. The machine gun overlapping lines in “Fugue for Tinhorns” often drowned each other out, foreshadowing a recurring problem with some of intricate harmonies of the show being blunted or muddied by the sound mix. Sound got better during the performance but it remained a problem – the orchestra was consistently too loud for my seats dead center in the room and the brass, especially, was oppressive, robbing “Luck Be a Lady,” for example, of some of its energy, and the piano was shaky and overpowering on “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” I hope this is fixed for future performances because it was the only real negative that stuck with me,though it’s a glaring negative with such a finely tuned score.
Sound issues aside, this Guys and Dolls is a delight. A classic entertainment with stellar performances filled with great songs.
Guys and Dolls runs through March 13th with shows at 7:30pm Thursday, 8:00pm Saturday, and 2:30pm Sunday. For tickets and more info, visit http://columbusjcc.org/cultural-arts/gallery-players/.