Guys and Dolls, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows; music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. Directed by John Rando with choreography by Joshua Bergasse.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"I would wish to testify."
Having said, once recently and in print, that I never need to see the musical "Guys and Dolls" ever again, I sit in front of my computer screen needing to write about just that, the show I have just seen for perhaps the 15th time in my life, a show I know so well that I could say half of the dialogue along with the cast of Barrington Stage Companyís superb revival. I find myself incapable of writing a single contraction as I comment on what I have just experienced. Exactly as the Damon Runyon characters speak, so must I write, so palpable is the influence of one of the most perfectly constructed shows ever to grace the stages of the nation.
Surely there is not one person who has not witnessed the two romances portrayed in this Broadway fable. Miss Adelaide, after fourteen years engaged to Nathan Detroit, has a seemingly incurable list of upper respiratory symptoms. Nathan is ever on the lookout for a new location for his Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game (in New York). Miss Sarah Brown leads her uniformed companions on the Lordís mission to save sinners in the heart of the sinningest city in the world. Sky Masterson will take the unusual bet and always emerge a winner for his Luck is a Lady.
Loesserís songs are a string of hits-become-standards, the sort of songs you could hear Sammy Davis, Jr., Frank Sinatra, Della Reese, Barbara Cook and just about everyone else sing for years on the radio, in elevators, in restaurants. Eight of them, at least, are inescapable. So much familiarity should leave an experienced theater-goer deflated and bored, but the cast in Pittsfield, MA do such a wonderful job of reinventing the unreinventable that boredom loses its potential and the mind and heart inflate with joy at the timelessness of what is being presented.
Enough accolades already! On to the real hard stuff: the tangible conferring of approval!
Michael Thomas Holmes is a perfect Nathan Detroit, as good as, if not better than, Sam Levene, Walter Matthau, Alan King, Robert Guillaume, Nathan Lane and much better than Oliver Platt. Holmes is a short charmer with a lovely voice and a hyper personality, a truly, as indicated, perfect Nathan.
Leslie Kritzer shines as Miss Adelaide, shines as brightly as Vivian Blaine, Helen Gallagher, Sheila MacRae, Faith Prince. Her touching performance in the duet with Nathan, "Sue Me" is a tear-inducer; you cry through your laughter.
Morgan James is a strong contender as Sgt. Sarah Brown of the Salvation Army, as good as Isabel Bigley, Leila Martin, Anita Gillette, or anyone else including Jean Simmons in the film. Her voice is lyrical and her body a symphony of sharps and flats. It is easy to believe that her resolute reactions to the sinners around her are genuine and so is her love when she chooses to give it.
Matthew Risch plays Sky Masterson as seductively as Robert Alda, Jerry Orbach, or Peter Gallagher. His looks are not glamorous or pretty, but his effect on women, in this role, is devastating both on-stage and off.
These four principals are joined by a company of players who manage to eclipse many of my memories of the earlier productions Iíve seen. While no one can surpass the original Nicely-Nicely Johnson as played by Stubby Kaye, or even Ken Page in the all-black revival in 1976, Daniel Marcus turns in a glorious performance in this current production and his rendition of "Sit Down, Youíre Rockiní the Boat" is up there with the greatest.
Tommy Bracco is fun as Harry the Horse, Michael Nichols is a classic Big Jule, Timothy Shew is a wonderful Benny Southstreet, Correy West an excellent Rusty Charlie, Gordon Stanley a perfect Arvide Abernathy, and Peggy Pharr Wilson a very nearly soignee General Cartwright.
The ensemble are a remarkably versatile group singing, dancing, portraying characters of all types. There are more back flips in this show than there are in any five others that I can think of.
Choreographer Joshua Bergasse shows his talents off well in the two lengthy ballets as well as in the opening ensemble number and working hand-in-hand with the director John Rando has orchestrated with bodies what is lacking in Darren Cohenís limited orchestra pit. The eight musicians deliver nicely but the richness of the score is slightly undermined by the limitations of the musical collaboration. The stage pictures, though, are so distracting that the music seems to drift up from some mythical subway line running underneath the streets of the city itself.
That city is richly served up in the sets designed by Alexander Dodge. Alejo Viettiís costumes are so good that the period of the show is never truly established which lends a certain credence to the timelessness of the work itself. Rui Rita provides the finest lighting plot of the season thus far managing to capture our attention on one part of the stage while ultimately impressive changes are being made to the settings. Even the ugly microphones drift into an embargoed oblivion in the fine sound design work of Ed Chapman.
Hereís a show I didnít want to see and now wonít have the chance to see again which wouldnít be a bad thing if I could manage it. You have an opportunity here to meet face-to-face one of the greatest shows ever written and produced in a production that shows you why it has had five Broadway revivals when other very good shows havenít even had one. This show helped fire up the careers of Peter Gennaro, Onna White, Scott Merrill, Gretchen Wyler and a host of other talented performers. A lot of the people at Barrington Stage, I bet, will be on your radar screens in years to come and you can see them now, before the rest of the world has that opportunity.
Michael Thomas Holmes & Leslie Kritzer; photo: Kevin Sprague
"HAVANA" ; photo by Kevin Sprague
Matthew Risch & Morgan James; photo: Kevin Sprague
Guys and Dolls plays at Barrington Stage Companyís downtown theater located at 30 Union Street in Pittsfield, MA through July 16. For information on performance schedules or to buy tickets call the box office at 413-236-8888 or go to their website at www.barringtonstageco.org.