Guys and Dolls: Don’t bet on this production

In Guys and Dolls, three gamblers sing about the horses they're betting on.

The singing—including in “Fugue for Tinhorns” (with Jason Lam, Colton Fyfe, and Argel Monte de Ramos)—is the most consistent success in this production. (Photo by Jennifer Suratos)

The musical Guys and Dolls is immortal, which means that it will survive this production.

Based on stories by Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls is set in New York in the ‘30s in the underworld of gambling. Nathan Detroit, who runs a floating crap game, bets high-roller Sky Masterson that he won’t be able to date the pious Salvation Army sargeant Sarah Brown. Meanwhile, Nathan has been engaged to Adelaide, who is the star performer at the Hot Box Club, for 14 years—and Adelaide is getting antsy.

Every song in this musical is perfection. “Fugue for Tinhorns”, the first number, establishes the overall tone of brilliantly polished brass. The intertwining melodic lines support witty lyrics as three gamblers choose which horses to bet on: “I know it’s Valentine/The morning work looks fine/Besides the jockey’s brother’s a friend of mine.” “Adelaide’s Lament”, in which Adelaide explains the psychosomatic origins of her chronic cold, is one of the great character songs of all time.  And Sarah’s “If I Were a Bell”, which she sings when she falls in love with Sky while on a date in Havana, is so purely ecstatic it could be sung by a thrush.

In this interpretation for Fighting Chance Productions, director Jennifer Suratos and her team get some elements right, but even those successes are often mixed. Charlie Deagnon plays Nathan with a great sense of comic timing and all of the energy this material needs. And Scott McGowan plays Sky Masterson with stylishly understated ‘30s cool. In a production in which all sorts of people are overacting, McGowan’s Sky means every word he says. My only beef is that McGowan hasn’t shaved his chinstrap beard, so his Sky looks like an Amish farmer. Dude, you’re an actor: commit to your work.

Mandy Rushton’s performance as Adelaide follows an instructive trajectory. She starts off by overplaying the character’s comic surfaces—the nasal voice and the bimbo attitude—but, as the story progresses and Nathan’s actions threaten to break Adelaide’s heart, Rushton’s characterization deepens and acquires a melancholy truth. It’s a great place to get to but Adelaide should be recognizably human from the get-go.

Ranae Miller, who is playing Sarah, underacts. Miller’s not forcing anything, which is good, but she never comes close to finding the depths of the character either. Sarah is a swooningly romantic role; Miller meanders through it.

The outstanding characterization in the supporting cast comes from Colton Fyfe, who plays gambler Benny Southstreet with a weasely kind of New York sass. Angel Monte de Ramos sings beautifully in the lynchpin part of Nicely-Nicely Johnson—he does a bang-up job of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”, for instance—but, as an actor, he has no idea what he’s doing.

Speaking of singing, under the musical direction of Marquis Byrd, the choral work is terrific and individual singers fare reasonably well although I wanted more fullness from McGowan’s Sky and especially from Miller’s Sarah, whose voice tends to get shrill at the top.

The physical production sucks. Chris Hall’s set is so rudimentary that I would rather have seen the show performed on a bare stage. Amara Anderson’s costumes are awful—and sometimes incomprehensible. Adelaide shows up in turquoise capris, a tight turquoise sweater, and a plum cloche hat, for instance. In what universe does this combination of elements—and colours—make sense? Director Suratos has made some of the gamblers women, which is fair enough, but she and Anderson have decided to clothe these characters in skirts and fedoras. What does this mean? As the title hints, Guys and Dollsis a gendered musical—that’s what it’s all about—but the statement this costuming choice is making about gender is nothing but confusing.

The choreography by Rachael Carlson and Amanda Lau is also problematic. The finest moments come in “Luck Be a Lady”, a hallucinatory number in which the dancers form an expressionistic circle around Sky, who is rolling the dice. Often, though, the dances are poorly shaped: Adelaide and the Hot Box Girls don’t even get a definitive button on the end of their nightclub number “Bushel and a Peck”.

This is an amateur production and it’s the mainstage debut for Suratos as a director, so some folks will say I’m being too hard on it, but Fighting Chance has had significant successes before, including with their most recent show, The Diary of Anne Frank, and with musicals such as The 25thAnnual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Besides, the tickets for this production are $35 and $40. So that’s worth considering when we’re thinking about what’s fair.

GUYS AND DOLLS Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser.Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Directed by Jenn Suratos. Presented by Fighting Chance Productions at the Waterfront Theatre on Friday, AugustContinues until August 25. 

Tickets.

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About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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