For many, if not most people, going to see the 1950 musical fable Guys and Dolls is like visiting an old friend. It's familiar (if not from the stage show, from the 1955 movie), comfortable and loaded with lovable characters, hummable tunes, and, if done right, moments that stay in the mind forever.
The version playing through Feb. 23 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre mostly does it right, with many delicious moments done by director Steven Flaa's sharp, well-chosen cast, framed by Tom Hansen's appropriately cartoonish backdrops and accompanied by music director Phyllis Gessler's spot-on tracks.
Guys and Dolls has been called the perfect Broadway musical, and rightly so. There's a serious romance, a comic romance, four great dance numbers, lots of action, Frank Loesser's magnificent music and lyrics and a satisfying ending.
Brian Minyard is a perfect master gambler Sky Masterson — tall, handsome, self-assured, slightly aloof, with a mesmerizing baritone that simply caresses the ballads I'll Know, My Time of Day and I've Never Been in Love Before, and commands the energetic Luck Be a Lady, making it easy to understand how Heather Baird's prim and proper Sister Sarah Brown can fall for him. And Ms. Baird makes her Sister Sarah totally appealing, with a clear, soaring soprano, beautifully expressive face and enveloping charm.
Tom Bengston's Nathan Detroit, organizer of New York's oldest floating craps game, exudes frantic desperation, as he seeks a place for the craps shooter and tries to squirm out of marrying his fiancee of 14 years, Hot Box singer Miss Adelaide (Ellie Pattison).
It took the cast a while to warm up on opening night, but once they did, the stage was hot, hot, hot, despite a rather subdued audience that seemed to take a while to thaw out from the mid-30s temperatures outside. (Or perhaps they were satiated and a tad drowsy from the buffet dinner.)
Even so, it was love for the show from the moment the adorable Benjamin S. Ptashinsky's Nicely-Nicely Johnson, in his wild plaid suit, and his cohorts Benny Southstreet (a cute Matty Colonna) and Rusty Charlie (a good-looking Logan O'Neill) set the scene with the boisterously clever Fugue for Tinhorns, a paean to the horses and bettors that dominate the Damon Runyon story that inspired the musical and opens the show. Of course, Nicely-Nicely's second act Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat is a near show-stopper, as Ptashinsky more than does it justice, aided by the cast's smooth moves.
Watch, too, for Show Palace favorites Pete Clapsis as the rough, tough Big Jule, the gun-toting gambler-who-can't-lose (what with his dice with invisible dots that only he remembers) from Chicago, and his sidekick Harry the Horse, smoothly done by Troy LaFon. Clapsis was born to do this role, and he's an eye magnet doing it.
Choreographer Andi Sperduti-Garner created some terrific dance sequences, most memorably in the high-energy Havana and athletic, muscular Crapshooters Ballet, and, to a cooler degree, for the saucy Hot Box strippers in A Bushel and a Peck and Take Back Your Mink.
The missing "character," so to speak, is the exaggerated, precisely spoken, slightly syncopated Bronx accents, the hallmark of a Runyon personality. Guys and Dolls is meant to be a cartoon come to life, with characters who are okay edging into caricature, with shrugged shoulders and curled lips, (think Steven Van Zandt's Silvio on The Sopranos) but, with a few exceptions, Flaa keeps his cast saying it straight, losing some of the flavor of the show.
That said, this Guys and Dolls is sweet, satisfying, and a genuine seven come eleven.