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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Guys and Dolls
Zimmerman's production for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) &emdash; restaged at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts &emdash; is canny, hugely charming, and lean as a bone. Cast, sets, costumes, and production flourishes may be at a minimum, but the delight quotient is through the ceiling. From the frisky opening"Runyonland" which has the entire cast in motion, all the way through to Miss Adelaide and Sarah Brown agreeing via a spit-palm pact to "Marry the Man Today," this Guys and Dolls is a winner.
Our pre-curtain view is of New York's skyline depicted in a 1930s era postcard. The curtain rises on a scene of, well, practically nothing. Daniel Ostling's scenic design consists of a series of easily transported set pieces, a counter here, an edifice there, shifting booths for the Hot Box. There's a small scale model of Big Apple buildings that gets shuttled around the stage, almost as a reminder that what we are watching is"a musical fable of Broadway." Mara Blumenfeld's costumes are smart without being attention-grabbers. Apart from final scene switches into newsboy and Salvation Army garb, Sky Masterson (played by Jeremy Peter Johnson) and Nathan Detroit (Rodney Gardiner) may change costumes once during the entire show.
Zimmerman and her musical team are not relying on big splashy chorus numbers; they don't need to. With Daniel T. Parker's giddy Nicely-Nicely Johnson and David Kelly's Benny Southstreet playing things schtick-free, numbers like "Guys and Dolls" and the trio "Fugue for Tin Horns" (the latter with Joe Wegner) are in the surest of hands. Be-colded stripper Miss Adelaide (Robin Goodrin Nordli) is backed by a grand total of four Hot Box Girls. Choreographer Daniel Pelzig puts the ensemble most rigorously through its paces in"Havana" which has the company maneuvering around an array of beach balls and, later, during the"Crapshooter's Dance."
With immortal tunes, a clever plot and well-known characters, the success of Guys and Dolls often comes down to that old Sky Masterson favorite: "chemistry." Zimmerman's company has it by the bushel. Gardiner and Nordli's Nathan and Miss Adelaide have clearly been working this marriage-evasion dance for years. Nordli projects weariness more than desperation while Gardiner's often manic Detroit feels like he's one failed deal away from a nervous breakdown. The actor can also flat-out dance. In solo mode, Nordli works fetchingly through the links between being single and being sick in "Adelaide's Lament" without a bludgeoning "Joisey accent." We want her to get her man.
On the straight couple side of the ledger, Kate Hurster takes the mission doll Sarah Brown from straight-laced to uninhibited with some real comic gusto. The Havana scene that has Hurtser guzzling down a couple of dulce de leches ("They should use this to make children drink milk") is a riot, and she ends up vampy and very charming as she explains "If I were a Bell."
As her dice rolling Don Juan, Johnson's Masterson seems to be going through some real insecurity. Whether blustering with Gardiner's Nathan or acting the sinner in need of saving with Hurster, Johnson's Sky Masterson comes across as not at all cocksure that he will win this final wager. The doubt is becoming and, like Nordli and Gardiner, Hurster and Johnson are well-matched. The same holds true top-to-bottom for Zimmerman's ensemble.
For the second consecutive season, an OSF musical has moved from Ashland to the Wallis in time for the holidays, following the remount of the company's equally delightful Into the Woods. With The Wiz on the docket for OSF in 2016, the Wallis would do well to start getting its yellow bricks in order for next year post-haste.