Musical theater doesn’t get much more classic — or reliably sturdy — than Guys and Dolls. Since its Broadway premiere in 1950, the show’s undergone numerous revivals, been staged by countless regional theaters, and even survived a lackluster film adaptation featuring the pretense that Marlon Brando can sing.
And yet, Guys and Dolls is showing no signs of fatigue in its sixth decade of life. Here’s a musical that hasn’t needed to be radically reinterpreted or transposed to an unfamiliar setting to wring a little more life out of it. Frank Loesser’s score still stands tall, and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book remains dependably snappy. The 5th Avenue’s production, starring a mostly local cast and running through June 5, is proof positive of both, and scarcely misses a beat with its sharp-as-a-tack choreography and stable of talented performers.
Set in the Damon Runyon-inspired version of New York City that’s filled with gamblers, showgirls, cops, and missionaries, Guys and Dolls tells the story of Nathan Detroit (Daniel C. Levine), a gambler who just wants to find a location for his craps game and keep the cops and his longtime fiancée Adelaide (Billie Wildrick) from finding out. Trouble is, he needs some capital to secure a place, so he bets high roller Sky Masterson (Brandon O’Neill) that he can’t get a date with Sarah Brown (Katherine Strohmaier), the leader of the local mission. Nathan thinks it’s a bet he can’t lose, but he’s going to learn just what some guys will do for a doll.
Guys and Dolls admirably balances the exploits of its four major characters (and has the runtime to prove it), which means an underwhelming performance from any of the four actors can cause the whole show to come to a grinding halt for a significant section. That’s nowhere even close to a problem with the 5th’s cast.
Seattle standout Wildrick gleefully embraces the girlish mannerisms of Adelaide, a-not-quite-ingénue who hasn’t cashed in her dreams yet. She makes a great pairing with NYC-based Levine, whose sniveling, pathetic Nathan Detroit really nails the heart of the character. Strohmaier is convincingly buttoned-up as the stern missionary, but conversely makes her transition into a more understanding soul seem natural. O’Neill makes a similar turn as an aloof charmer who finds something with permanence.
Todd Buonopane, Greg McCormick Allen, and Allen Galli are a ton of fun as the trio of small-timers who act as Nathan’s eyes and ears and often introduce transitions to the show. Buonopane (you might recognize him from his hilarious 30 Rock recurring role as sensitivity trainer Jeffrey Weinerslav) makes every scene he’s in about 70 percent more fun as Nicely-Nicely, and he really shines with his rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” In the same scene, Laura Kenny almost steals it as General Cartwright with her booming presence.
Noah Racey’s choreography is a thing of beauty, whether in the winking showgirl numbers at the Hotbox where Adelaide works or the more expressionistic pieces like “Havana” and “The Crapshooters Dance.” Kate Sutton-Johnson’s set design makes good use of bright bulbs, with a massive title sign that’s more than just window dressing and the illuminated cross on the outside of the mission (which cleverly doubles as a “t” in the Hotbox’s marquee).
I think it just might be law that you have to turn in your theater lover card if you don’t have a soft spot for at least some elements of Guys and Dolls. The 5th’s production would do Loesser proud, and it’s likely to delight whether it’s your first or fortieth time visiting this little corner of New York.
Guys and Dolls stages Tuesdays through Sundays through June 5 at the 5th Avenue. Tickets are available for purchase online at the theater’s website.