Entertainment

Lively Guys and Dolls singing their way to box office hit

By Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

Thom Allison as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, with the cast of Guys and Dolls, is on stage at the Shaw Festival Theatre through November. The play opened Saturday to an enthusiastic audience. Photo by David Cooper, Shaw Festival

Thom Allison as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, with the cast of Guys and Dolls, is on stage at the Shaw Festival Theatre through November. The play opened Saturday to an enthusiastic audience. Photo by David Cooper, Shaw Festival

It’s fun and fast-moving, lively, full of energy, the music is great, the acting superb—Guys and Dolls, which opened Saturday at the Shaw Festival Theatre, is on its way to becoming the artistic and box office success the festival is counting on.

There’s not much of a plot, and what plot there is gets told mostly through song. It’s the 1950s, the location is Broadway—the devil’s own city on the devil’s own street, we are warned from the beginning— and Nathan Detroit (Shawn Wright) a likable sort-of gangster with the cops on his heels, is looking for a place to hosting his next craps game in an era and a city where they’re illegal.

He’s desperate to get his hands on $1,000 to secure a location, and hearing high-roller Sky Masterson is in town with a pocketful of cash, he bets the charmer that he can’t take a doll—specifically, missionary Sarah Brown, whose business is to save souls such as theirs—to Havana, where he’s headed for a meal and a good time.

They’re all engaging characters, including Detroit’s friends and gamblers, but the real show-stealers, the ones who will help take Guys and Dolls to the bank for the Shaw, are Detroit’s burlesque-dancer girlfriend, Miss Adelaide (Jenny Wright), and his buddy Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Thom Allison), whose rendition of Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat almost has the audience standing up in admiration—the opening night theatre-goers validated the high expectations from previews with a standing ovation, with the accolades for that particular song a tribute to Allison.

Miss Adelaide, attractive and appealing with her 1950s tough exterior, inside nothing but mush for her man, is a down-to-earth New Yorker through and through—she manages to turn ‘cold’ and old’ into two-syllable words in one of the show’s best numbers. She laments her long (14-year) engagement to Detroit, and worries about what to tell her mother—she’s already written that she’s been married for a decade to a grocery store assistant manager, with whom she has five kids.

But as much as she wants to hate Detroit for keeping her hanging for so long, and for breaking so many promises, she’s inescapably attached to her guy.

And although he thinks tying the knot would be weakness on his part, he is just as crazy about her as she is about him.

The other relationship, the one that develops between Masterson and the prim and proper Miss Brown, is also intriguing, and a good representation of the nightlife on the streets of New York—good and evil, neither as unequivocal as they seem.

The Shaw Festival has shown, with the huge successes of My Fair Lady and Ragtime and now Guys and Dolls, the depth of an ensemble that can do the ideological debates of Major Barbara to satisfy the most exacting Shavians as well as the first-class singing and dancing of the big musical productions, a range of talents that is absolutely critical to offering the variety of entertainment and wide appeal necessary to sustain a season of 10 productions.

Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, directed by Tadeusz Bradecki and musical direction by Paul Sportelli, has already had its season at the Shaw Festival Theatre extended with 15 more shows that will take it through November.

For more information or tickets call 905-468-2172.

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