Theater Review: GUYS AND DOLLS (Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham)

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by Emily Brenner on June 9, 2024

in Theater-Boston


Guys and Dolls has long been considered by many to be the perfect musical. Since its premiere in 1950, some have claimed it’s sexist, dated, simplistic, and stereotypical in its depiction of women as property (then again, virtually everything prior to our pre-woke-era can be claimed as heteronormative). But Greater Boston Stage Company in Stoneham is offering a spot-on production with enough of a wink and a nod that we forgive a script which was written nearly three-quarters of a century ago. With that, this fun outing, which opened last night, really does feel like a perfect “Musical Fable of Broadway.”


Based on two short stories by Damon Runyon and with the book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, and music and lyrics by the great Frank Loesser, Guys and Dolls brings to life the bustling world of Broadway’s ne’er-do-well gamblers, glamorous cabaret showgirls, and determined missionaries. Nathan Detroit (charmingly played by Arthur Gomez, who doubles as the show’s assistant director) can’t seem to kick his habit of running an illegal floating craps game that attracts some of the biggest gamblers around, which he must indeed curb to marry his long-suffering fiancée of 14 years, Miss Adelaide (the pitch-perfect Sara Coombs). Since in order to marry and support a family, he also needs money, he is at a stalemate. When high roller Sky Masterson (Jared Troilo in a deftly shaded performance) comes to town, Nathan can’t resist making what he believes to be a bet on a sure thing with him. This lands Sky in a position to not only have to woo the head of the local Save-a-Soul mission, Sarah Brown (beautifully sung and acted by Lisa Kate Joyce), but to take her on a date to Havana for the night. The two couples interweave in fun plot twists of ups and downs, with the classic happy ending.


In addition to the two romantic story lines, various local characters and fellow gamblers add to the action (often in beautiful harmonies and counterpoint). In a smart choice having the big-time gambler Big Jule from Chicago played by a woman, Allison Russell stands out. She nimbly plays other roles as well, but is given more meat to chew on here. Big Jule is still an intimidating hustler, temperamental and a sore loser. but making Jule a woman adds a contemporary patina. Russell’s ad-libs and reactions (whether her own character choices or that of director/choreographer Ceit Zweil) are a particular highlight. In fact, the intimate space of Greater Boston Stage allows us to catch such sotto voce gems from her and others even from the back rows of this 350-seat theatre.


Ms. Zweil’s production uses the mid-size house to advantage, as it lends itself to a nicely-nicely pared-down design by Jon Savage. For example, the sewers where the most intense gambling action and most intricate dance number take place are evocatively brought to life simply with lighting by Corey Whittemore. And we don’t need oodles of Hot Box Girls joining Miss Adelaide in the striptease of “Take Back Your Mink.” Three is perfect, and Allison Russell, Hannah Shihdanian, and Abigail Martin perform their numbers — and other roles — with aplomb. Deirdre Gerrard’s colorful and wide-ranging costumes help to add pizazz. The orchestra is small but mighty, and it’s a treat to have them in full view, especially when musical director Dan Rodriguez alternately dons a black top hat to double as the Hot Box Club Emcee.


This classic, feel-good Broadway show with its brassy orchestrations and toe-tapping melodies, combined with a great cast and production team, is certainly recommended.

photos by Gillian Gordon

Guys and Dolls
Greater Boston Stage Company
ends on June 30, 2024
for tickets ($25-$69), call 781.279.2200 or visit GBSC

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