Seeing the musical “Guys and Dolls” is similar to an occasional visit from a colorful, oddball relative – call him Uncle Tony. He’s older now and talks a little slower. But his jokes are still funny and he can make his off-color stories sound fresh.
Spokane audiences might feel that way during the Best of Broadway touring production of the acclaimed musical. Thursday’s opening night performance at the INB Performing Art Center was a deft blend of high energy and quirky romantic comedy.
First staged on Broadway in 1950, “Guys and Dolls” has earned its place as one of the musical stage’s classics of song and dance.
Based on stories and characters developed by writer Damon Runyon, it’s set in a mythical New York City where the guys are all hustling the odds and the women – always called dolls – are breezy or brassy.
This tour, presented by Big League Productions, does some things very well. It generally succeeds in the show’s most basic challenge, giving distinct personalities to its characters, who have names like Benny Southstreet, Nicely Nicely Johnson and Harry the Horse.
The four most central characters are Nathan Detroit, the fast-talking gambler who hosts the city’s longest floating crap game; Adelaide, the suffering nightclub dancer who is tired of waiting for Nathan to marry her; Sky Masterson, the high-roller who is challenged by Nathan on a bet that he can’t get a date with the fourth character, “mission doll” Sarah Brown, a sergeant in the Salvation Army who is focused on saving the wayward souls of the street denizens.
Christopher Swan, as Nathan, and Lauren Weinberg, as Adelaide, have the show’s secondary romance, a 14-year-engagement that has produced in Adelaide a series of psychosomatic ailments.
In “Adelaide’s Lament,” Weinberg delivers a knockout vocal summary of life attached to a guy with a weak spine. “Waiting for that plain little band of gold,” she sings, “a person can develop a cold.”
Matthew J. Taylor as Masterson and Kayleen Seidl as Sarah are drawn with less comic depth, but both do solid jobs acting and singing.
This is a show with a great Broadway show tune, “Luck be a Lady,” and Taylor does well with that classic hum-along tune. “Guys” has maybe six love songs, and most of them, like “Adelaide’s Lament,” are more comic than heartfelt. This production celebrates one of the minor love songs, the quiet little tune “My Time of Day,” to great effect. Near the end of Act One, it’s a soft lyric with an uneven melody, representing Sky Masterson’s love song to New York City in the hours before dawn. Here it works like magic.
Seidl has to occupy the show’s least dimensional role, that of a virginal do-gooder who finds herself smitten by Masterson on a trip to Cuba. And still, she makes the role her own, using moments of quiet intensity that work effectively to offset the scenes where the wild inner Sarah Brown finally breaks loose.
Another success in this show is the scenery and lighting, done primarily with scrims and backdrops that conjure a New York streetscape where buildings jut up at crazy angles and where light peeks over rooftops.
Kudos go to set designers Randal Wright and Charlie Morrison. One of their best scenic efforts was an Art Deco depiction of the underground sewer where Nathan, Sky and the guys turn up for their final big crap game. It was both detailed and almost dreamlike.
The designers’ work also shows well during the massive ensemble dance and music number, “Havana,” when Masterson and Brown encounter their deeper feelings. That tune, along with the rightful Act Two rhythmic masterpiece, “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” rock the hall and are easily the show’s biggest moments.
The program notes say “Guys and Dolls” last came through downtown Spokane 20 years ago. It’s an 8-to-5 bet that it will be back again in a decade or two.