Guys and Dolls at the Guthrie Theater

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Another summer has come which means another big blockbuster musical has opened at the Guthrie Theater. This year it’s one that just about everyone has heard of and that is Guys and Dolls.  The show has been done for years by community theatres, high schools, colleges and regional theatres. It was reported that there was another movie adaption in the works. It’s also touted as a “perfect musical comedy” but how perfect is it?

Guys and Dolls is specifically about two guys and two dolls. Nathan Detroit has set up “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York” however he needs $1000 to lock in the location. Miss Adelaide, a night club singer, has been dating Nathan for almost fourteen years and is ready to kick him to the curb if he doesn’t commit soon. While those two quarrels, Sarah Brown is a missionary on a mission to guide sinners to a path of good and while she becomes the main subject of a bet with Sky Masterson who must successfully take her to Havana on a date. The bet slowly becomes real as Masterson falls for Brown. *

The Guthrie has always done a smashing job in producing not only theatre year-round but specifically their summer musical. Guys and Dolls is no exception to that statement. The set, designed by Jason Sherwood, is a stunning visual of the New York skyline with vibrant colors. This is reflected as well in many of the costumes designed by Kara Harmon. Together they complement each other beautifully.  

Performances are 10’s across the board by many actors thanks to the lovely casting. The ensemble help bring choreographer Dell Howlett’s vision to life with lively dancing and lovely singing. Justin Keyes plays Nicely-Nicely Johnson and performs one of the most recognizable songs, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” with a youthful exuberance. Angela Timberman plays various roles and manages to stand out in every single one of them including Agatha, the cleaning lady in the nightclub. Honestly, I’m a little disappointed she wasn’t given something bigger because Timberman is an incredible actress however, she excels in these roles. One of my favorite things about this cast is the reimagined version of Big Jule, as they call her Big Julie instead, who is played by Karen Wiese-Thompson.  

Nathan Detroit is played by Rodney Gardiner and a nice contrast to what I’ve normally seen in the role. He adds a new level of comedic style to him that really makes Nathan stand out more in the show in a new way. Miss Sarah Brown, the missionary who falls for a gambler, is played by Olivia Hernandez who seemed to struggle a bit through some of her songs. While the role calls for a high soprano voice, she took a bit of time to get up to the normal range the role calls for.

 This production should be called “The Adelaide Show” because that’s what audiences are getting. Miss Adelaide, played by Kirsten Wyatt, is brilliantly cast and brings dynamite comedic timing to the stage. Her blunt delivery, over exaggerated sides to the audience and dry wit is reminiscent of one of the greatest female comedians of all time: Carol Burnett. Wyatt’s portrayal of the nasally night club performer should be the gold standard for how this role will be played from here on. Both Gardiner and Wyatt’s performances are elevated even more when they are on stage together as they create a dynamic chemistry. 

Now while the Guthrie continues to produce some of the highest quality theatre in the Twin Cities, what I’m slightly disappointed in is the choice. There is nothing wrong specifically with this production. It’s a marvelous production with wonderful performances however why Guys and Dolls? It’s a dated show with some truly sexist moments. There is no need to shelve this show indefinitely, that’s not what I’m calling for. But what I would like to see is one of the biggest theatres in town to take more of a risk with their summer musical production. I’m thrilled they are doing Cabaret as their summer musical next year.

Guys and Dolls plays at the Guthrie Theater now through August 25.

*summary taken from my Lyric Arts review.