“Guys and Dolls” witty, wry, wonderful
by Kory Loucks
STORRS-Spend an evening with Liver Lips Louey, Angie the Ox, Harry the Horse and the other lovable no-goodnicks from drinking Bacardi on the beaches of Havana to playing craps in the sewers of New York City at Connecticut Repertory Theater’s “Guys and Dolls,” the 1950 musical fable of Broadway.
I probably shouldn’t admit this, having seen hundreds of plays and musicals, but this is the first time I’ve seen “Guys and Dolls,” including the 1955 film starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinartra.
Not having any shows to compare it to, however, this stellar production will set the standard by which all future productions will be judged.
The plot “Guys and Dolls,” is based on the writer Damon Runyon’s stories, with book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.
For the two or three people who like me have never seen the show, the plot revolves around a small time hood named Nathan Detroit, who is desperate to set up a game of craps for his cronies, but can’t find a place to hold the illegal games.
In the mean time, a Salvation Army troop, lead by Sarah, is trying to save sinners in the heart of the Big Apple, without much success. Detroit bets $1,000 that his buddy, Sky Masterson, can’t woo Sarah, so he can get money to pay for a place to gamble.
Detroit’s long suffering gal, the brassy night club singer Miss Adelaide, played by the animated Caitlin O’Brient, has been engaged to Detroit for 14 years, and is pushing him to finally take the matrimonial plunge.
The diminutive Sarah Shenkkan plays the Salvation Army member Sarah Brown. Its amazing that such a strong clear sound can emanate from such a petite person.
Ken Clark, last seen in the Connecticut Repertory Theatre musical “Urinetown,” plays Masterson, the slick, cynical womanizer, up against the willful, innocent Sarah. She doesn’t have a prayer and he sweeps her off to Havana before you can say "Dulce de Leche."
The school should also be pleased with their own staff. Webster, who plays Detroit with commitment and street smarts, is professor of Movement Theater at the University of Connecticut. David Alan Stern doing a lovely turn as Sarah’s grandfather Arvide Abernathy. Stern is the dialect and speech coach and a professor and associate head of the Dramatic Arts Department.
To top it off, the UConn School of Fine Arts new Artistic Director Vincent J. Cardinal also directs “Guys and Dolls” with skill and pace.
The dancing and acrobatics are fabulous and topnotch, with rumbas in Havana, and other well choreographed dance numbers, including terrific tap dancing by Miss Adelaide and her Hot Box dancers. Choreographer Cassie Abate.
The sets are fantastic too, with lighted signs signifying the big city to open the show, with advertisements for Planters Peanuts, Coca-Cola, RKO Palace, and Bloomingdales, and more. The simple backdrop of a sunset in Havana is gorgeous. Set design by Michael Anania.
The appealing aspect of this show, and probably the reason it is so popular with high schools and community theaters, is that there are so many fun supporting characters in addition to the lead roles.
Characters like Nicely-Nicely Johnson, played by Clyde Voce, Benny Southstreet played by Connor Moore and Rusty Charlie played by Trent Saunders add much to the production and kick off the show with my favorite song among many good ones, “Fugue for Tinhorns.”
Other terrific songs include “Luck be a Lady Tonight,” “Sue Me,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin the Boat,” with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser.
Still more characters including Big Jule, played by Jack Fellows, Harry the Horse (Joey Barreiro) and Angie the Ox played by Kevin Jones give this musical depth and breadth.
And the costumes! From the fedoras, zoot suits, and skinny ties worn by the men, to the A-line skirts, Havana whites, and sparkly tops worn by the women, they are as numerous as they are beautiful, by costume designer Michiko Kitayama-Skinner.
This is the first of three Nutmeg Summer Series productions, and if “Guys and Dolls” is any indication, it is going to be a stellar summer of theater at UConn.
(4 stars, excellent; 3 stars, good, 2 stars, fair, 1 star, poor)
Location: Harriet S. Jorgensen Theatre, Jorgensen Road, Storrs.
Production: Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon. Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Directed by Vincent J. Cardinal. Choreography by Cassie Abate. Music direction by David Williams. Scenic design by Michael Anania. Costume design by Michiko Kitayama-Skinner. Lighting design by Al Crawford. Sound design by Nathan Leigh. Dialect and speech coach David Alan Stern. Technical direction by John Parmalee. Production stage manager Cynthia Kocher.
Running time: 2 1/2 hours including one intermission.
Show Times: Wednesday, and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. through Sunday.
Tickets: Range in price from $10 to $39. Call the box office at 860-486-4266 of visit their Website at www.crt.UConn.edu.
Greg Webster … Nathan Detroit
Caitlin O’Brient … Miss Adelaide
Ken Clark … Sky Masterson
Sarah Shenkkan … Sarah Brown
David Alan Stern … Arvide Abernathy
Clyde Voce … Nicely-Nicely Johnson
John Bixler … Lt. Brannigan
Connor Moore … Benny Southstreet
Trent Saunders … Rusty Charlie, Havana dancer
Kevin Jones … Angie the Ox, Havana dancer, Drunk, Cop
Joey Barreiro … Harry the Horse, Havana waiter
Jack Fellows … Big Jule
Mischa Goodman … Mimi
Alix Paige … General Cartwright, Allison
Ryan N. Phillips … Master of Ceremonies, Liver Lips Louey
Hanna Kaplan … Agatha, Hot Box girl,
Ethan Kasnett … Calvin, Havana dancer, Society Max
Melissa Rapelje … Martha, Havana dancer
Logan Rose Nelms … Fergie, Havana dancer
Bliss Griffin … Vernon, Havana dancer