Guys and Dolls is a caricature of New York City circa 1931, overrun with shady gamblers, cutesy chorus girls and Irish cops. Despite scenes set in alleys, garages, nightclubs and the Save-a-Soul mission, Guys and Dolls is essentially a sweet love story about opposites who attract.
Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts excels at producing musicals, and Guys and Dolls is an American musical theater masterwork, which premiered on Broadway in 1950. It features 14 memorable songs by stellar composer Frank Loesser. The original book for Guys and Dolls, a play based on two short stories, was thrown out because of its awkwardness. Loesser completed the score before the new script was conceived, so the story is driven by his lyrics.
Almost everyone is familiar with "Luck Be a Lady," the gamblers' plea to hit the jackpot, but "If I Were a Bell," "I'll Know," "I've Never Been in Love Before" and "Take Back Your Mink" are equally melodic and are performed well here by a gifted cast. I could watch Benny Southstreet (Preston J. Meche II) and Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Adam Segrave) perform their duet over and over again.
The curtain opens on a group of gamblers in search of a secret location for a floating crap game. They challenge a high roller, Sky Masterson (Joseph Morand), to an extraordinary bet. They wager he will be unable to convince a beautiful missionary, Sarah Brown (Emily Borne), to accompany him to dinner in Havana, Cuba. When Masterson visits the mission, he pretends to be a sinner in search of salvation, scoring points for accurately quoting scripture. Because the mission is in danger of closing for lack of penitents, Brown agrees to go out with him if he delivers "one dozen genuine sinners" to her next revival meeting. Masterson takes Brown to a Havana nightclub, plies her with rum milkshakes and sparks begin to fly. Brown is sweet and stubborn; Masterson is tall, dark and handsome. Their romance is assured.
Meanwhile, Nathan Detroit (Mike Harkins) keeps Miss Adelaide, his exasperated showgirl fiancee, at bay. She is played by Alison Logan, an exceptional comedian who trained at Second City Conservatory, and exudes all the sexy wiles of Marilyn Monroe with her pouty, baby doll face.
There are many reasons to applaud this show. In addition to colorful set designs with a vintage street scene, including a movie house with a neon marquee, newsstand and barber shop, there are wonderful costumes and dancing. Petty criminals dressed in red- and pea-green-striped, wide-lapel suits and fedoras crouch to the floor, mimicking a dice game while Hot Box dancers show off their gams. The Havana scene is particularly exotic with dancers decked like Carmen Miranda.
The show is a bit long for modern audiences, and it's disappointing that there's no live orchestra, which could allow the singers more freedom. Still, the production is a fine rendition of an American classic.