Sierra Rep's lovable gangsters shine in 'Guys And Dolls'

02/12/2010 12:03 AM

02/12/2010 10:26 PM

SONORA — The gangsters and hustlers in the musical comedy "Guys and Dolls" have little in common with anyone on "The Sopranos."

Created by New York writer Damon Runyon, these characters are for the most part lovable men who just want to make some dough without working too hard.

Director Dennis Jones beautifully depicts a romanticized version of early 1950s New York City in Sierra Repertory Theatre's season-opening production.

Noble Dinse's eye-catching Broadway set features a cartoonish version of the skyline with lots of bright lights and colorful storefront signs. In the opening scene, swindlers, prostitutes and gamblers try to avoid police on bustling Broadway.

With a knockout score from Frank Loesser, including such upbeat hits as the title number, "Luck Be a Lady" and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," this show is classic American musical theater at its best.

First performed on the Great White Way in 1950 and made into a movie with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando in 1955, the musical centers on two couples with tumultuous relationships.

High-stakes gambler Sky Masterson tries to seduce stern missionary Sarah Brown so he can win a bet. Meanwhile, nightclub dancer Miss Adelaide attempts to get her fiancé of 14 years, craps game organizer Nathan Detroit, to finally tie the knot.

As Sky, John C. Brown undergoes a dramatic transformation from confirmed bachelor to lovesick suitor. Cocky at first, he melts in the presence of Amy Bloom's Sarah. His charms are mostly lost on Bloom for much of the show until the couple connect on a magical evening in an exotic setting.

Bloom's pure soprano provides ear candy in "If I Were a Bell" and "I've Never Been in Love Before." The latter is sung as a duo with Brown, who also has a powerful voice.

Christine Rowan's Adelaide is brash, high-strung and sweet at the core. She is the lead dancer at the Hot Box, where she and the other girls perform the striptease "Take Back Your Mink."

Chip Duford is a standout in the cast as her unreliable boyfriend, Nathan. Always short of cash and in danger of getting arrested, he's constantly anxious. Despite his reluctance to get married, he does love Adelaide and wants to make her happy.

Kenny Wade Marshall nearly steals the show as Nicely Nicely Johnson, who belts out the gospellike number "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat." He got the most applause of any performer in Wednesday's performance.

The best dancing is to be found in "Luck Be a Lady," with choreographer Russell Garrett having the men perform handsprings, one-handed cartwheels aerial somersaults and other acrobatic feats.

Jenliee Houghton's costumes are appropriately loud, with the men wearing plaid or striped suits and hats. The recorded accompaniment is sharp and vibrant.

"Guys and Dolls" offers a toned-down look at life on the wild side in the Big Apple a half-century ago. The naughty boys in "Guys and Dolls" are so entertaining that it's almost sad when most decide to reform at the end.

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