By Tina Arth
I confess – I am an ardent, almost rabid fan of Loesser, Swerling and Burrows’ Guys and Dolls. The show made its Broadway debut in 1950 and received the Tony Award in 1951 for Best Musical (as well as being chosen for the Pulitzer Prize the same year, an award that was never granted because the House Un-American Activities Committee disapproved of Burrows’ politics). In terms of play structure, interwoven story lines, and integration of music with book, it is as close to perfect as a musical can be (at least in my opinion). In addition, the great songs all fit exactly where they are placed, and the dance numbers correspond just as closely to the demands of the tale. Consequently, I set a high bar – a VERY high bar - for any theatre group that ventures to present this paragon. Opening weekend, Broadway Rose laid down the gauntlet for all other local troupes. The synthesis of vocal ensemble, blocking, acting and choreography is so good that at the end of Act II’s “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” I leaned to my neighbor and whispered, in all sincerity and with just a touch of melancholy, “I will never see this number done this well again.”
Guys and Dolls is adapted from some of the short stories of Damon Runyon, and follows the stories of two interconnected couples in the New York underworld of the twenties and thirties. Nathan Detroit, the promoter of a long-running floating crap game, needs a place to hold the game, and he needs to hide the game’s existence from the disapproving Adelaide, his showgirl fiancée of 14 years. Enter Big Jule, a Chicago mobster insistent on finding a game, and Sky Masterson, a high roller who will bet on almost anything – but not marriage. To finance a locale for his crap game, Nathan bets Sky that he cannot talk local missionary Sarah into a quickie visit to Havana. As the tale follows the fates of the two couples, bound up in the fate of the failing Save A Soul mission, good conquers evil and love conquers all.
One flaw common to many Guys and Dolls productions is the casting of a Sky Masterson who can sing the role, but who just doesn’t capture the “bad boy” charm needed to make the romantic bonfire with Sarah credible. The choice of Ryan Reilly for the role is inspired – he is drop-dead handsome, with a just a touch of danger – all women want him; all men want to be him. He claims not to believe in lasting love, but in “I’ll Know” he signals he’s ripe for a fall, and by the time he delivers his exquisite rendition of “My Time of Day” it’s clear that he’s beyond redemption. Dru Rutledge (Sarah) is a worthy adversary – feisty, independent, superficially righteous but obviously intrigued by the hint of a world beyond her mission even before she tastes her first Dulce de Leche. Rutledge’s gorgeous soprano voice is always impressive, but is at its best in “If I Were a Bell” and “Marry the Man Today” when she suppresses her superb operatic training into a more relaxed delivery.
Joe Theissen and Emily Sahler are flawless as Nathan and Adelaide. Director Sharon Maroney made the interesting (and immensely satisfying) decision to allow them to fulfill their roles as the show’s comic leads without turning them into over-the-top cartoon characters with absurdly exaggerated Brooklyn accents. Both renditions of “Adelaide’s Lament” are appropriately pathetic, but Sahler retains her dignity throughout, and her “Sue Me” duet with Thiessen works in part because Nathan is played as sincerely love-struck, despite his history of deception and the unusually long engagement.
While there are no weak links in the ensemble, two performances demand special recognition. Margo Schembre’s portrayal of the seemingly upright and uptight General Cartwright is a comic jewel. It’s a cameo role, but she makes the most of it as she coyly flirts with Sky and the other gamblers. Brandon Weaver’s loveable Nicely-Nicely earns the hooting and hollering at his final bow for his amazing lead vocals from “Fugue For Tinhorns” at the start of Act I through the previously mentioned “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”
The powerhouse vocal ensemble work is rivaled by Maria Tucker’s equally energetic choreography, especially in concert with the always wonderful orchestra in “Havana” and “Crapshooter’s Dance.” The result is a colorful, energetic tour de force of the best of musical theatre. In her Director’s Note, Sharon Maroney says she’s wanted to produce and direct this show for 27 years. She should be very, very proud. Friday night’s standing ovation is a testament to a remarkable achievement - do not miss this high point in her already illustrious career.
Broadway Rose’s Guys and Dolls runs through August 19th at Tigard High School’s Deb Fennell Auditorium.