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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Guys and Dolls

" The world of Damon Runyon purports to be that of outlaws, gangsters, low-lifes and fancy girls, and we take them at their word. But in fact, all of them, these "marginal" people of gritty old New York, end up succumbing to the same old familiar ache: the Stripper and the missionary girl, the wayward gambler and procrastinating bookie, in spite of what they believe of themselves or others believe in them, end up looking to find a home, a haven and familial love."
— Director Mary Zimmerman.
guys and dolls
Daniel T. Parker and David Kelly (Photo credit: Kevin Parry)
All that gangster-y angst over the importance of a bet. . . What a bunch of hooey! Sure, inveterate gambler Sky Masterson may sweat a bit and push his vocal cords into high gear when he sings "Luck be a Lady," arguably the most famous song of Guys and Dolls' celebrated score. But as Mary Zimmerman's production of the Abe Burrows/Jo Swerling/ Frank Loesser classic more than aptly demonstrates, when a whipsmart company gets a hold of a property this bulletproof, it's the audience that is rolling a string of sevens.

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.

Guys and Dolls
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Directed by Mary Zimmerman
Cast: Alyssa Birrer, Tyler Matthew Burk, Tony DeBruno, Richard Elmore, Al Espinosa, Robert Vincent Frank, Rodney Gardiner, Kristin Glaeser, Richard Howard, Kate Hurster, Briawna Jackson, Jeremy Peter Johnson, Sean Jones, David Kelly, Eugene Ma, Robin Goodrin Nordli, Erin O'Connor, Daniel T. Parker, Britney Simpson, Jeff Skowron, Jonathan Luke Stevens, K.T. Vogt, Joe Wegner, Christopher Henry Young
Music Direction and Orchestrations: Doug Peck.
Choreographer: Daniel Pelzig
Technical Director: Brad Enlow
Scenic Designer: Daniel Ostling
Costume Designer: Mara Blumenfeld
Lighting Designer: T.J. Gerckens
Sound Designer: Ray Nardelli
Casting Director - OSF: Joy Dickson
Vice and Text Director: Susan Sweeney
Fight Director: U. Jonathan Toppo
Production Stage Manager: Jeremy Eisen
Assistant Stage Manager: Roxana Khan
Songs:"Opening/Runyonland," "Fugue for Tin Horns," "Follow the Fold," "The Oldest Established," "I'll Know," "A Bushel and a Peck," "Adelaide's Lament," "Guys and Dolls," "Havana," "If I Were a Bell," "My Time of Day," "I've Never Been in Love Before," "Take Back Your Mink," "Adelaide's Second Lament," "More I cannot Wish You," "Luck be a Lady," "Sue Me," "Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat," "The Guys Follow the Fold," "Marry the Man Today," "Finale/The Happy Ending" Plays through December 20, 2015 at the Bram Goldsmith Theater, Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 746-4000,
Running time: Two hours, 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission
Reviewed by Evan Henerson
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