Catholic Transcript Magazine of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hartford Connecticut

Friday, April 27, 2018

Oliver Platt, left, and Craig Bierko (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

NEW YORK –The new production of "Guys and Dolls" that arrived at the Nederlander Theatre last month is a solidly entertaining show, thanks mainly to its funny and inspired book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. It is based on a story and characters inspired by Damon Runyon, with superior music and lyrics by Frank Loesser.

The fact that some of the critics gave it a cool reception is lamentable since, for the most part, director Des McAnuff’s revival is pretty much a constant delight.

Although the cast he has assembled doesn't have the mega-star rialto wattage of the 1992 revival that featured Nathan Lane, Faith Prince and Peter Gallagher, Mr. McAnuff has filled the stage with a cast of talented performers and a winged group of chorus dancers.

He errs only at the beginning of the show by not starting the evening off with Mr. Loesser's "Fugue for Tinhorns," but rather, with choreographer Sergio Trujillo's company dance "Runyonland." The latter looks like it was lifted from the musical "42nd Street" and does nothing but slow down the show's opening action. He also adds a character named Damon (Raymond del Barrio), to represent Mr. Runyon, who can be seen threading through the evening's proceedings writing notes, observing scenes and typing up his stories. The character is a superfluous addition.

Otherwise, Mr. McAnuff puts his trust in the "Guys and Dolls" created by the writers – those Broadway denizens of a long-ago and mostly forgotten time. They are all present, including the sky-high gambler, Sky Masterson (Craig Bierko) and the innocent mission doll, Sister Sarah Brown (Kate Jennings Grant).

Sky, on a bet, persuades Sarah to go on a dinner-date with him to Cuba. By way of return, he gives her his "marker" – which in Runyon's world means his gambler's word to deliver a dozen genuine sinners to her mission meeting. Of course, because this is a musical comedy and a sentimental one to boot, Sky innocently falls in love with Sarah, and, of course, delivers the sinners to her Times Square Save-A-Soul mission.

The sinners include such characters as Nathan Detroit (Oliver Platt), proprietor of "the largest established permanent floating crap game in New York"; along with Harry the Horse (Jim Walton); Benny Southstreet (Steve Rosen); Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Tituss Burgess); and, from East Cicero, Ill., Big Julie (Glenn Fleshler), who shoots craps with his own dice, from which all the dots have been removed. Julie supposedly remembers where all the spots were, and since he wears a gun in a shoulder holster, nobody challenges his memory until the suddenly righteous Sky Masterson knocks him out.

As Sky, who will bet on anything, Mr. Bierko gives an easy, jaunty performance in a dark suit and tie; he looks the way gamblers used to look when Damon Runyon watched them while sipping a cup of coffee from his corner table at the old Lindy's restaurant on Broadway. As a singer, Mr. Bierko is first-rate, especially with such a strong Loesser song as "Luck Be a Lady." As the mission woman, Ms. Jennings Grant is primly sweet, acts modestly and is funny on her Cuban dinner-date under the mild influence of "milk" drinks flavored with Bacardi rum. She is particularly pleasant singing two lovely ballads, "I'll Know" and "If I Were a Bell."

Although he is less flashy than, say, Nathan Lane was, Mr. Platt's Nathan Detroit is amiable and amusing. As his girlfriend Adelaide, Ms. Graham, of the popular TV series "Gilmore Girls," makes the blonde nightclub singer funny and appealing.

The chorus women who back up Ms. Graham in her two Hot Box nightclub routines, "A Bushel and a Peck" and "Take Back Your Mink," – neatly fashioned by Mr. Trujillo – are hilarious. You have not seen such a chorus line since the old Latin Quarter and the Copacabana closed their doors.

It's one of the theatrical wonders of the season that "Guys and Dolls," which premiered in 1950, still delivers a storm of good entertainment.

The theatre is located on 41st Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenues.

Bernard Carragher lives in New York and covers the arts and entertainment