Asolo Rep’s season opener musical, Guys and Dolls, may not have the substance of some previous musical kickoffs (1776 and West Side Story come to mind, where there was a lot more at stake, to use a gambling metaphor), but under the direction of Josh Rhodes this Broadway classic certainly has plenty of sparkle and spirit.
This Guys and Dolls is true to the nature of Damon Runyon’s portrayals of the colorful characters he encountered and embellished in his short stories, and it’s polished, high-energy and delivered by a fine cast from the leads to the ensemble.
That’s apparent from the opening number on Lee Savage’s evocative set, where the bright lights and neon signs shine down on the diverse group of sailors, nuns, tourists, cops, and even a flasher that inhabits the Times Square of Runyonland. Rhodes, who also choreographed the show, keeps everybody moving at a fast clip, and the movement helps to set the scene for the story to come.
That, in the hands of book writers Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, fleshed out by those inimitable Frank Loesser songs we all know, centers not only on New York’s gamblers, hustlers and showgirls but on the matchups or mismatches between two couples. The first consists of “missionary doll” Sarah Brown (Audrey Cardwell), a Salvation Army sergeant, and high roller Sky Masterson (Cole Burden), who has reasons of his own for pretending to be a penitent sinner at her mission. The second is made up of fellow gambler Nathan Detroit (Chris Hoch), founder of the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York and longtime fiancée of Adelaide (Veronica J. Kuehn), whose famous sniffles are the result of one delayed wedding date after another.
If you’ve seen a lot of community theater productions of Guys and Dolls, as I have, you know that sometimes the more comic couple, Nathan and Adelaide, steals the show. While that’s not quite the case here, the actors playing them are definitely a talented pair, and their repartee packs plenty of zing. Kuehn especially garners laughter whenever she scoots across the stage on her tiptoes or makes a split-second transition from pleading to demanding and back again. Her “Adelaide’s Lament” number is, of course, a hit of the show, and deserves to be.
But there’s also fine work by Cardwell as Sarah, a role that can sometimes come across as a little boring. Not here. Cardwell is properly starchy in her opening scenes, but when she downs those rum drinks in Havana and takes to the dance floor with abandon, she’s equally convincing, and her vocals are outstanding throughout. Burden’s Sky could afford to command the stage a bit more at the beginning, but he certainly comes across on “Luck Be a Lady,” a number where Rhodes’ choreography is both visually and athletically stunning.
Another number where the choreography dazzles is the rousing “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” led by Todd Buonopane’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson. He and his cohorts, from Elliott Mattox as Benny Southstreet to Steve Greenstein as Big Jule, give the production lots of juice.
There’s more that could be said about Rhodes’ choreography, on deliberately “corny” numbers like “Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink” with the Hot Box Girls, or about Brian C. Hemesath’s fun costumes, or Sinai Tabak’s spot-on music direction. Suffice it to say that while Guys and Dolls doesn’t have much hanging in the balance, it sure entertains.
Guys and Dolls continues through Jan. 1; for tickets call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org.