San Diego Theater Review: GUYS AND DOLLS (The Old Globe’s Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage)

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by Tony Frankel on July 20, 2017

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


It’s amazing. Were this masterpiece from Broadway’s golden age an actual guy or doll, he or she would be scoring Social Security. But make no mistake, this 1950 hoofer is no worse for the wear, thanks to Frank Loesser’s timeless score and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ cheeky book about strippers and dice-rollers.

Because of some miscasting and sputtering comic timing, it’s neck-and-neck in the first act of The Old Globe’s pizzazz-filled, eye-popping production, but it’s the second act that wins the race, and not even by a nose but way out in front.

Adapted from Damon Runyon’s stupendous short stories, Guys and Dolls follows two connected paths: Nathan Detroit (J. Bernard Calloway), operator of a famed floating crap game, must find a venue for his event, difficult because “the heat is on”—and not just from the local Lieutenant: His fiancée of 14 years, Adelaide (Veronica J. Kuehn), a burlesque stripper—sorry, showgirl—with a heart of gold, is at the end of her engagement rope.

To finance his search for a temporary site, Nathan bets visiting high roller Sky Masterson (Terence Archie) that he cannot persuade Sarah (Audrey Cardwell), the leader of the local Salvation Army-style mission, to go to pre-Castro Havana with him for an evening. But this itinerant gambler’s slot machine comes up all hearts, and he has to put more than his bank roll on the line. As Sky worms his way into Sarah’s world, Nathan ducks the cops and his girl—with the help of his two tinhorns, Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Todd Buonopane) and Benny Southstreet (Matt Bauman)—as all of New York’s underpinnings sing and dance up a storm.

Loesser’s score includes a bevy of standards, among them “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “Bushel and a Peck,” and “More I Cannot Wish You,” a gorgeous Irish ballad beautifully sung here Ralph Johnson as Sarah’s missionary grandfather, Arvide.

There are three things needed to make a production soar: First, the idiosyncratic formality of Runyon’s slang must be valued as every-day speech (some actors here don’t have the comic chops for this); the veracity of every role must be taken as holy gospel, avoiding cartoonish caricatures (Calloway as Nathan pushes way too hard and misses almost every joke). Second, actors must be able to sing with distinction (Cardwell as Sarah sings like she’s at the Met). Third, everything from costumes to setting must be just a little bit larger than life (this is done with an abundance of gigantic Times Square neon signs and an impressive Hot Box set [which shook when Adelaide and girls stripped in “Take Back Your Mink”], which made up for the weak backdrops [sets by Lee Savage, lights by Paul Miller]).

Director/choreographer Josh Rhodes has given us some of the most rousing dance numbers ever seen at the Globe: The gamblers in “The Crapshooter’s Dance,” the Hot Box dancers, and even the gospel-tinged ensemble moves like a Studebaker engine in one of the greatest 11 o’clock numbers in Broadway history, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” I especially liked Bauman and Buonopane as Benny and Nicely-Nicely hoofing it up in the titular song.

A terrific time which could be Broadway-bound if everyone on that stage matched Veronica J. Kuehn, who steals the show as the perennial fiancée Miss Adelaide, the toast of the Hot Box Dance Club. Too many peroxide-headed dames in too many revivals have sold the Divine Miss A short as a blonde bombshell desperate to channel her inner housewife. Yet whether she’s sniffling (“Adelaide’s Lament”) or having an argument (“Sue Me”), or figuring out how to bag Nathan (“Marry the Man Today”), Kuehn radiates such sweet sexiness and sheer devotion to Nathan that she is love incarnate. But then so is the score.

This show is always one bet you can’t lose.

photos by Jim Cox (click image for larger version)

Guys and Dolls
Donald and Darlene Shiley Stage
The Old Globe
1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park
ends on August 13, 2017
for tickets, call 619.234-5623 or visit The Old Globe

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Len Zamkoff August 5, 2017 at 7:45 pm

Mr Frankel, Of all the reviews I’ve read of this production (“Wow!” “Faultless!” “Masterpiece!” rave, rave, rave), yours is the only one that appears to be written by someone who’s seen a Broadway musical before. My son and I were prepared to leave at intermission, the first act was so bad. But we’d seen so many productions in San Diego that were saved by the second act—plays, musicals, and more than one opera—that we stayed (we could leave during the second act if it was no better than the first.)

Despite the resumes of the other leads, Veronica Keuhn alone struck me as of Broadway-Star quality. I’ve since seen her “Monica’s Song” from Clinton The Musical on YouTube, and it’s a showstopper.

Also, I wasn’t sure if you meant “Cardwell as Sarah sings like she’s at the Met” as a compliment. My son and I thought casting her was a mistake, that voice was in the wrong show.

Thank you for an informed review.


Tony Frankel August 6, 2017 at 2:31 pm

No, Len, it wasn’t a compliment: I think this Sarah was miscast, too; this isn’t an opera and she lacked a distinctive soprano belt.


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