The only question raised by the Musical Theater Heritage crisp production of “Guys and Dolls” is simply this: Can the viewers possibly have as much fun as the actors?
This concert version of the show is chock-full of cleverly crafted performances, which is hardly a surprise. The Broadway classic, with songs by Frank Loesser and a book based on Damon Runyon short stories, is an actor’s dream. “Guys and Dolls” is filled with exaggerated versions of Broadway gamblers, their “dolls” and pious missionaries, all rendered larger than life, but credible in the hands of talented actors.
The cast of this show seems so ideally suited to the material that I wouldn’t mind seeing a full-blown production with these performers. But this is an Musical Theater Heritage concert performance, with actors at stationary microphones staring at the audience instead of each other most of the time. There are some brief sequences of flashy choreography and the production faithfully uses the book credited to Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.
The musical is built around four leads, two male and two female. Nathan Detroit (Daniel Boothe) and Sky Masteron (Christopher Sanders) are gamblers. Miss Adelaide (Leah Swank-Miller), a dancer at the Hot Box, is Detroit’s fiance, who, after a 14-year engagement, thinks it might be time for him to commit. Sarah Brown (Lauren Braton) is the upright (or, if you prefer, uptight) missionary dedicated to saving the souls of the gleeful sinners swarming around Times Square.
Detroit is desperate to bankroll his floating crap game and bets Masterson that he cannot persuade Sarah to go out with him. He succeeds, of course, by flying her down to Havana for dinner but in the process falls head over heels for the prim but passionate Miss Brown.
Boothe exhibits flawless comic timing as Nathan Detroit while Sanders, who plays Masterson with the regal bearing of a matinee idol, using his booming voice to good effect and is convincing as a player who suddenly discovers deep feelings he never knew he was capable of.
But the women dominate the show. Swank-Miller delivers a spectacular comic performance as the dopey but sincere Miss Adelaide and the always-classy Braton offers a perfectly realized version of Sarah. Braton is hilarious in the Havana sequence, when the gullible missionary has too much to drink and discovers her inner party girl.
The supporting players are great fun to watch as they sink their teeth into their broad-brushed characters. Justin Barron as Benny Southstreet, Jeff Berger as Rusty Charlie, Bob Linebarger as Harry the Horse, and Paul Morel, who doubles as Joey Biltmore and Angie the Ox make an impressive rogue’s gallery of gamblers. Zachary Parker stands out as the cartoonish Big Jule and Andrew Schmidt as Nicely Nicely memorably leads the company in the most infectious number in the show, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”
Andy Garrison gives us a workmanlike performance as Arvide, who runs the mission, and Marilyn Lynch appears as General Cartwright, who is enthralled by the limitless supply of sinners on Broadway.
Director Sarah Crawford stages the show with an eye for vivid stage pictures and close attention to timing. The orchestra, led by Jeremy Watson, was in in fine form Saturday night. Loesser’s songs — including “Fugue for Tinhorns, “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Luck Be a Lady” and the title tune — are simply irresistible and this production does them justice.