Los Angeles Theater Review: GUYS AND DOLLS (Musical Theatre West in Long Beach)

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by Tony Frankel on February 20, 2018

in Theater-Los Angeles


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.

With some over-exuberant portrayals, and a sound system to wake the dead (even Benet Braun’s glorious orchestra is miked), it’s neck-and-neck in the first act of Musical Theatre West’s well-cast, high-energy 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 (Matthew Henerson), 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 (Bree Murphy), 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 (Jeremiah James) that he cannot persuade Sarah (Madison Claire Parks), 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 (Andrew Metzger) and Benny Southstreet (Blake Joseph) — 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 by Fred Bishop as Sarah’s missionary grandfather, Arvide.

With Kevin Clowes’ flat sets more as backdrop than integrated pieces, director Mark Martino keeps the stage very busy – a little too busy, even in duos — but the missing nuance doesn’t mean this massive machine isn’t humming like a classic Packard. Choreographer Daniel Smith and his heavy-hittin’ movers and shakers have given us some astoundingly rousing dance numbers: The gamblers in “The Crapshooter’s Dance”; the Hot Box girls; 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.”

It’s always a part that steals the show but Ms. Murphy’s perennial fiancée Miss Adelaide, the toast of the Hot Box Dance Club, is awesome. 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. Whether she’s sniffling (“Adelaide’s Lament”) or having an argument (“Sue Me”), or figuring out how to bag Nathan (“Marry the Man Today”), Murphy, a full-figured doll cast against type, radiates such sweet sexiness and sheer devotion to Nathan that she is love incarnate. But then so is the score.

And enjoy Ms. Parks while you can, because – just like MTW’s own Lesli Margherita before her (Matilda on Broadway) – this dynamic dame is no doubt Broadway-bound herself. That silky soprano veers from any hint of operetta, so we get plenty of character from her as the stiffly reserved (but with hidden fires) Sarah Brown. She is well-matched by Mr. James’s suave but sensitive, dicey but dashing Sky Masterson. Henerson is a roguishly charming Nathan Detroit, caught between the lure of the crap game and Miss Adelaide. And not only does Mr. Metzger have chops for days, but he’s awfully damned loveable as Nicely-Nicely.

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

photos by Caught in the Moment Photography

Guys and Dolls
Musical Theatre West
Richard and Karen Carpenter Performing Arts Center
6200 E. Atherton at Cal State Long Beach
ends on March 4, 2018
for tickets, call 562.856.1999 or visit Musical

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