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Covedale’s “Guys and Dolls” is a Sure Bet

Review by Doug Iden of Guys and Dolls: Covedale Theatre

Gamblers, pickpockets and assorted goons invade Broadway as one of musical comedy’s classic hits, Guys and Dolls, opened at the Covedale Theater.  Based upon his short stories, Damon Runyan’s beloved lowlifes infuse the theater with outrageous, idiosyncratic characters who spend their lives chasing the elusive financial dream of winning “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York”.

The show opens with Nathan Detroit (Jeremiah Plessinger) desperately trying to find a location for his crap game while henchmen Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Brandon Bentley), Benny Southstreet (Rich Roedersheimer) and Rusty Charlie (Cian Steele) set the stage with the delightful song “Fugue for Tinhorns”.  Bentley establishes his dominance in his role with his Subby Kaye-esque tenor voice and rotund features in the opening scene and continues to shine in several bravura performances in the second act.

Plessinger as Nathan Detroit is delightfully frantic while receiving pressure by the gamblers to host the game while trying to dodge his fiancé of 14 years (Adelaide played by Marissa Poole) who wants Nathan to stop gambling.  This is the comic couple and they deliver in spades.  One benchmark I use when evaluating this show is how Adelaide performs one of the greatest comic songs in Broadway history, “Adelaide’s Lament”.  Poole delivers the song brilliantly, as well as several risqué night club songs with the Hot Box Girls including “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink”.  The roller coaster interplay between the two helps move the show along in humorous fashion.  Poole is the only character on stage who tries to affect a Manhattan accent which is a little jarring but the accent is crucial to her primary comedy song.

The lead couple is Sky Masterson, a more sophisticated high roller, and Sarah Brown who is trying to convert sinners while running a fictional Salvation Army like mission on Broadway.  Sarah’s attempts have proven fruitless and she is close to leaving the mission.  Nathan Detroit needs seed money for his crap game and cons Sky into a sucker bet to take Sarah on a date to Havana.  The leads are played by married couple Dave Wilson and Sarah Viola and they have, predictably, a good chemistry on the stage. This is the third production that I have seen with the duo.  Wilson has a powerful voice which commands the score and Viola’s operatic voice is a good match.  My only quibble is that there are times when Viola’s voice is too operatic and too strong. In the opening scene, we are introduced to the mission workers singing “Follow the Fold”, Viola’s voice transcends the other singers in what should be a chorus.  However, she is good in the soliloquy “I’ll Know”, the semi-comic “If I Were a Bell” and the soaring duet “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” which closes the first act.

Frank Loesser wrote both the words and music for his masterpiece.  Loesser started as a lyricist only for many movies in the 1930’s but finally got his chance to do the music as well.  He also penned How to Succeed in Business.  Frank was known for writing conversational and extraordinarily witty, sassy and sardonic lyrics.   Some of the best comic songs ever written appear in this show along with several show-stopping production numbers including “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” sung by the gamblers in a mock-gospel tour de force.  The band, led by Ron Attreau, is adequate although the trumpet was a bit sour at times.

The scenery was very interesting.  In several previous productions, Brett Bowling has used a series of movable, turn-able sets. But here, the set is static with a backdrop that, alternately, represents the streets of Broadway, the mission, the Hot Box Club, Havana and the sewers of New York.  The scenes are altered by using props, some curtains (for Havana) and significant use of lighting.  This was Technical Director Denny Reed’s show with a bewildering variety of colored lights used directly or in background.  Several “neon” signs are outlined by lights which are, often, the majority of the lighting on the stage.  Reed captures the mood of the show well with his lighting.

Caren Brady must have hired an army to create all of the costumes which ranged from the mission uniforms, to sexy show girl outfits, to outrageous and discordantly colored clothes for the gamblers.  Director Tim Perrino moved the show along well and Choreographer Jeni Schwiers oversaw some good dance routines especially in the crap game and mission/gospel scenes.

Overall, I found this production to be delightful and engaging.  This is one of my favorite shows so I have a bias but I think you’ll have a good time at the Covedale.

So, go ahead and “Rock the Boat” and “Follow the Fold” to the Covedale, playing through March 11.