Guys and Dolls
“In the crapshoot called Broadway, Guys and Dolls is as close as the theater gets to a sure thing,” said Linda Winer in Newsday. Inspired by Damon Runyon’s tales of fast-talking, colorfully named 1930s New York hustlers and gangsters, this musical-theater classic boasts a witty (if hokey) book by Abe Burrows as well as Frank Loesser’s “lovable hit parade” of a score. Let the show itself do the heavy lifting, and you’re almost guaranteed success. Too bad no one told Des McAnuff. The director’s “tarted-up, oddly cast, and oppressively produced” Guys and Dolls revival, starring Oliver Platt and Lauren Graham, is “so busy with dizzying cinematic scenery, hard-edge choreography, and updated musical arrangements” that it completely suppresses the musical’s vibrant pulse.
It certainly is oddly cast, said Thom Geier in Entertainment Weekly. Start with the guys. Platt “is an actor of many talents, but he’s no one’s idea of a musical comedy star.” As craps impresario Nathan Detroit, Platt is more heel than charmer, and appears uncomfortable in the role. Craig Bierko is equally awkward as gambling ace Sky Masterson, though his “thin but confident voice” saves him on the classic “Luck Be a Lady.” The dolls fare a bit better. Graham, of Gilmore Girls fame, makes her Broadway debut as Nathan’s perpetual fiancée, Adelaide. She has a strong voice, and swings a few laughs during “Adelaide’s Lament,” but she’s a bit too smart to play the simpleton. Kate Jennings Grant, meanwhile, gives perhaps the strongest performance, employing her “fine soprano to lovely effect” as the temperate Sarah.
To be fair, no cast could save this sad production, said John Heilpern in The New York Observer. Watching it is “akin to listening to a fabulously witty story you adore being retold by someone with zero sense of humor.” McAnuff might have done well to consider the show’s subtitle: A Musical Fable of Broadway. Instead of fable, he gives us a heap of gray, “grim reality.” There’s no color here, and certainly no joy. In these turbulent economic times, “what we need is a tonic.” McAnuff gives us bathtub gin.