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by | May 25, 2024 | Review | 2 comments

Madeleine Suddaby’s performance as Adelaide is worth the price of admission. Literally. Lay down that dough!

Guys and Dolls premiered in 1950, but it’s based on work by Damon Runyon set two and three decades earlier. In the underworld of gamblers, strippers, and Salvation Army do-gooders, two love stories intertwine. Hoping to win $1,000 to secure a venue for a craps game, Nathan Detroit bets Sky Masterson that he can’t get a date with Salvation Army sergeant Sarah Brown. Meanwhile, Nathan’s fiancée Adelaide is pressing him to tie the knot — after 14 years of being engaged.

Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics are unbeatable. Off the top, “Fugue for Tinhorns” sets the bar with its rapturous syncopations and wordplay. And the tunes and wit keep coming: “Luck Be a Lady Tonight”, “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat”, so many more.

Adelaide is a bimbo, one of those heartbreaking, hilarious female clowns, and Suddaby nails every frickin’ note, syllable, gesture, and glance. She’s playing a type — and finding freshness and depth at every turn.

Adelaide is the featured stripper at the delicately named Hot Box Club; there’s so much joyous sexuality in Suddaby’s performance that it becomes a kind of luxury. And she’s so funny in the role, riding a combination of perfectly honed intuition and emotional responsiveness that makes for flawless comic timing. When she introduces herself to Sarah, for instance, and says, “I’m Adelaide, the well-known fiancée”, both the situation’s absurdity and the character’s despair are in full bloom.

Adelaide gets a lot of material in this musical and I was grateful every time Suddaby was onstage. Because she’s discovering the lyrics as she’s singing them, she finds a ton of vocal texture, including in the showstopping “Adelaide’s Lament”, in which the character explains the psychosomatic origins of her longstanding nasal congestion: “In other words, just from sitting around watching herself grow old/A person could develop a cold.”

Not everybody in the cast is up to this same level and there are weaknesses in Ashlie Corcoran’s direction.

Josh Epstein’s Nathan Detroit is the perfect counterpoint to Suddaby’s Abigail, skilled and fully engaged as both an actor and a singer, which makes Abigail and Nathan’s scenes together, including their duet “Sue Me”, pure pleasure.

And, playing Benny Southstreet, one of Nathan’s comic sidekicks, Daniel Curalli demonstrates once again why he deserves to become a star: the purity of his deadpan, the elegance of his physical schtick.

Tenaj Williams fares less well in the plum role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Nathan’s other sidekick. Nicely-Nicely gets less stage time than Adelaide but the role can be just as flamboyant. Unfortunately, in the world of Guys and Dolls, which is not naturalistic, Williams opts for a kind of naturalism. It’s a missed opportunity.

More problematically, the central relationship between Sky and Sarah doesn’t even start to work until near the end of the first act.

Jonathan Winsby has a big, velvety voice, but part of the appeal of Sky Masterson is that he’s a bad boy, a criminal, and there’s no edge in Winsby’s portrait. Because his Sky is a gentleman from the beginning, there’s never any doubt that he and Sarah will get together, and the character never undergoes a significant transformation — so one of the story’s essential dynamics is missing.

The sense of containment and deliberateness that marks Chelsea Rose’s acting as Sarah extends to her vocal performance, which feels more practised than free.

Throughout, too many musical numbers simply feel staged, as opposed to directed from a storytelling point of view. Don’t get me wrong; some of the staging is great. Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt’s work on “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” is a masterclass in specificity — and it’s precisely executed by the cast. (The large male chorus is strong throughout.) But there were also times when I would have welcomed less dancing and more relationship development — in “I’ll Know”, Sarah and Sky’s first duet, for instance.

And, in my opinion, it was a mistake to make the physical production so shiny. Yes, Damon Runyon’s characters are colourful, but they’re also small-time criminals and two-bit strippers. They belong to an underworld, so they’re not clean and sparkly — but that’s what we get here. Bright white Broadway marquees form the basis of Scott Penner’s set design. It’s impressive, but it’s also a distraction and it sets the wrong tone.

So there are pluses and minuses. Still, with a big boost from Suddaby, the successes of this production are worth investing in.

GUYS AND DOLLS Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon. Directed by Ashlie Corcoran. On Thursday, May 23. An Arts Club production running at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until June 30. Tickets and information

PHOTO CREDIT: Hot Box girls Yasmin D’Oshun, Madeleine Suddaby, and Shannon Hanbury (Photo by Moonrider Productions)


  1. kelvin

    I’m surprised Vancouver’s arts community, with its “cancel” mentality, hasn’t condemned this work.
    Doesn’t it celebrate toxic masculinity, Colin?

    • Colin Thomas

      🙂 Well, the discussion about bimbos CAN get tricky. Some people find the word insulting; I use it to refer to effervescent female clowns.
      That said, the last full song in Guys and Dolls, “Marry the Man Today”. has always struck me as misogynistic. I find it offensive so, if some other folks do too, I wouldn’t be surprised. But that’s only one part of a big show and I haven’t heard any complaints.


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