Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Review: Guys and Dolls

This Revival Can’t Do, Can’t Do

By Lauren Yarger
It’s a musical with a terrific Frank Loesser score and decades of successful stagings from New York to the high school auditorium near you, but the latest revival of Guys and Dolls at Broadway’s Nederlander Theater just can’t do.

The first musical number, “Fugue for Tinhorns,” from which we alter the “can do” lyrics in the headline for this review, tells the story of the show’s problem right from the start: too many individuals without a blend. The three-voice popular song in which the characters speculate on the best bets at the race track sounds like three guys trying to make sure they stand out individually instead of working together to create one tune. And so it goes with the musical, as the four leads try to create characters different from those we’ve become accustomed to over the years.

The usually excellent Oliver Platt seems ill at ease and plays floating crap-game organizer Nathan Detroit as though he’s trying to do an imitation of Harvey Fierstein. Lauren Graham as Miss Adelaide, who can’t get Detroit to the altar, abandons the character’s traditional nasal accent and adopts one that doesn’t quite work. Kate Jennings Grant’s Sarah Brown is hardly retiring, rigid or naïve, as we've come to expect. Instead, she is brash and entirely capable of holding her own against the advances of Craig Bierko’s slick Skye Masterson (indeed, Bierko is the only one of the four stars who appears confident in the skin of his character), so it seems a bit silly that the whole plot revolves around a bet that Masterson can’t woo the Salvation Army prude and convince her to accompany him to Cuba for dinner.

The result is that there’s no chemistry and a show with a fill-in-the- gaps-around-the-great-songs book (Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows) needs chemistry. It feels as though director Des McAnuff has taken a hands-off approach and hopes that Robert Brill’s massive moving, ever-changing sets (made even more elaborate by Dustin O'Neill's video design), Paul Tazewell’s dazzling 1940s-era costumes with splashes of contrasting color, Sergio Trujillo’s choreography and Loesser’s wonderful music and lyrics (Ted Sperring, music director) will distract us enough to keep us from realizing that there’s something missing. One welcome addition would be additional vocal coaching for Graham whose voice sounds strained. A large ensemble cast of characters and dancers seems disconnected from the whole as well, except for Jim Ortlieb, who plays Arvide Abernathy, Sarah's bass-drum beating grandfather who gives a really nice rendition of "More I Cannot Wish You."

The musicians, housed in a three-story platform behind the action on stage and conducted by Jeffrey Klitz, are great and it’s wonderful to hear old classics like “A Bushel and a Peck,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” "Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat.” The latter, led by Titus Burgess who plays crapshooter Nicely, Nicely and the Graham-Grant duet “Marry the Man Today” are the strongest numbers, but they’re also two of the last, so when things finally seem like they’re coming together, it’s time for the final bows.

The show plays at the Nederlander Theatre, 208 West 41st Street, NY. For tickets, call (212) 307-4100 or visit http://www.guysanddollsbroadway.com/.

Christians might also like to know:

  • Scantily clad showgirls
  • A large painting in a restaurant in Havana depicts a man and woman nude
  • One character depicts masochistic behavior (in what is supposed to be a humorous revelation)

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. and the Episcopal Actors' Guild.

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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