Definitely not rockin’ the boat

Guys and Dolls

Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directed by Bryan McHaffey
St. Jean’s Players
167 E. 75th St. (212/249-2537)
Non-union production (closes Nov. 21)
Review by Charles Battersby

Guys and Dolls has well earned its status as a musical-theatre classic. It’s simply filled with unforgettable musical numbers from top to bottom, and is loaded with places to cram in flashy choreography. The book (based on stories and characters created by Damon Runyon) is full of memorable dialect, and has not one, but two love stories, plus an ending so happy you could cry.

Every high-school drama club and community theatre in the country has produced it, but, for those who have never seen it before, the plot goes as follows. In 1940s New York, Nathan Detroit (Charles Mobb) runs a gambling den that’s in a different location every night (on account of the law poking its head where it don’t belong, see). Among his patrons is Sky Masterson, a high roller, who takes a bet that involves Masterson romancing a wholesome missionary, Sarah Brown. Singing, dancing and hilarity ensue.

When a show has been performed as often as this one (with a Broadway revival in the not-so-distant past), the worst crime a production can commit is to be unoriginal. Unfortunately the St. Jean’s Players were completely by the book in their take on it. The directing (by Bryan McHaffey) was uninspired, or rather too heavily inspired by the film adaptation. Everything was presented in a straightforward manner, with very little to make this particular production unique. The lack of originality in direction could have been excused if the other elements of the production were strong, but the performances and design were sub-par as well.

Casting choices were often against type, with Sarah Brown (Sharon Lowe) a bit more worldly than in many other productions, as was Miss Adelaide (Diane Collins). Despite the miscasting, the voices were occasionally on target, with Ms. Lowe singing Sarah Brown well, and Owen M. Smith doing the same as Masterson. Audiences were lucky to get Nathan Freeman and Chazmond J. Peacock as Benny Southstreet and Nicely-Nicely Johnson, the two most prominent supporting players. Peacock in fact was the standout of the cast, and his song "Sit Down You’re Rockin' the Boat" was the evening’s highlight.

Dance (choreographed by Mary Anne Gruen and Diane Collins) was also a little too simple, and was used more frequently than needed, and for periods of time that ran on for too long. A couple of good dancers could be seen, but the choreography seemed to be limited so that the non-dancers could follow along.

Costumes were certainly colorful, but again, a bit on the obvious side. No doubt garbing the large cast was a Herculean challenge, and designer Jennifer Hoddinott handled it as well as could be expected. Sets (by Greg Guiteras) were serviceable cardboard pieces representing Times Square or Havana. The music was provided by a live band (drum and piano), which was occasionally out of sync with the singing.

Although this production failed to live up to the standards of the Broadway versions, it certainly met the mark expected for community theatre, which is a valuable contribution to the American theatrical scene.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Performing: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2004 Charles Battersby