By Barbara Anne Kirshner
“Luck Be a Lady”
“If I Were a Bell”
“I’ve Never Been in Love Before”
“Take Back Your Mink”
These familiar songs are part of the rich tapestry that makes up American musical theatre history and all are in the classic, Guys and Dolls, the perfect choice to launch Theatre Three into its 52nd season of bringing fine entertainment to Long Island audiences.
Frank Loesser’s stunning music combined with his compelling lyrics accompanied by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ whimsical book resulted in a one-of-a-kind show that truly represents Broadway’s Golden Age.
Inspiration for this 1950’s musical came from early 20th Century short stories penned by Damon Runyan most notably “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown,” “Blood Pressure” and “Pick the Winner.” Runyan’s penchant toward gambling, especially craps and horse racing, played out in his short stories and in this musical. Likewise, Runyan’s connection to the underworld and best friend, mobster accountant, Otto Berman, is reflected in his works with Berman given the alias “Regret the horse player.” Runyan and his humorous works about gamblers, hustlers, and gangsters from Brooklyn or Midtown Manhattan with unusual names such as “Nathan Detroit,” “Big Julie” and “Harry the Horse” proved a perfect springboard for creating this delightfully entertaining musical.
Guys and Dolls premiered on Broadway in 1950 winning the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was adapted for the movies in 1955 with a star-studded cast including Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine. Since then, this fan favorite has enjoyed numerous Broadway and London revivals before venturing into Port Jefferson.
This captivating Theatre Three production takes hold of the audience right from the start with a spirited overture under the musical direction of Jeffrey Hoffman that instantly immerses the audience in the light-hearted tone of the show. Then lights go up on the company of actors in mid-twentieth century period piece colorful dresses and dashing suits thanks to costume designers Jason Allyn and Ronald Green III.
Randall Parsons’ scenic design is abstract yet functional with a backdrop of towering city skyscrapers inside a frame outlined with tiny white lights then transforms into the Hot Box Club, this time with a backdrop of shimmering silver streamers before morphing into industrial pipes and smog representing the gambling garage. Stacey Boggs’ lighting design accentuates each scene from brilliant whites to smoldering greens and reds.
Director Jeffrey Sanzel has assembled a dynamic cast that dazzles and owns the flavor of 1950’s New York City.
There are essentially four leads in this show. Rachel Greenblatt is engaging as puritanical missionary Sarah Brown, dedicated to saving sinners and surprised by her own vulnerability at falling for smooth talking gambler, Sky Masterson (Kevin Shaw). Greenblatt hits the stratosphere with her trilling soprano in such songs as “I’ll Know, If I Were a Bell” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” Shaw’s Sky Masterson is suave, charismatic and oh so cool as a big-time gambler, but becomes equally surprised to realize he has fallen for this prudish do-gooder. There are two showstoppers in this musical and Shaw owns one of them with his rousing “Luck Be a Lady.”
The other two leads in the show are Nathan Detroit (Steven Uihlein), who is obsessed with gambling and not his fiancée, Adelaide (Sari Feldman), with whom he has been engaged for the past 14 years. Uihlein and Feldman are adorable together and their duet in “Sue Me” is humorous as Nathan tries to deflect Adelaide’s insistence that they marry. Feldman equally shines when belting out “Adelaide’s Lament” bemoaning that her one continuous cold is due to waiting so long for that band of gold. Feldman luxuriates in Adelaide’s affectations including her high-pitched New York City accent, rhythmic gait and innocence mixed with determination to finally marry that man.
Nathan is not only dealing with Adelaide’s pressures, but he is being pressured to rent the Biltmore garage for the big crap game. The only problem is he doesn’t have the money for the rent, hence he makes a bet on what he perceives is a sure thing. Nathan bets Sky $1,000 that he will not be able to get Sarah to go to dinner with him in Havana the following evening.
But the smooth-talking Masterson convinces the sweet missionary to fly off to Havana for dinner. That leaves Nathan in a double mess. He doesn’t have the money for the garage and now he owes Sky $1,000 for losing their bet.
The adroit Company in this show takes on Ryan Nolin’s impressive choreography with gusto. In the Latin flavored Havana interlude the dancers — Rob Ferzola, Melissa Norman, Cassidy Rose O’Brien and Alex Yagud-Wolek — exude sensuality as they ease into Nolin’s gorgeous tableaus. Nolin keeps the party going with Adelaide’s animated Hot Box chorus girls and their effervescent dance routines.
The second showstopper belongs to Finn MacDevitt’s animated Nicely-Nicely Johnson whose bouncy aerobic routines in “Sit Down, You’re Rockin the Boat,” received rousing applause on opening night.
Theatre Three’s Guys and Dolls is a jubilant celebration of Broadway’s Golden Age. Don’t miss this one.
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents ‘Guys and Dolls’ through Oct. 22. Tickets are $35, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 to 12. To order, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.
Photos by Brian Hoerger/Theatre Three Productions, Inc.