Theater is a crap game. The director of a show often doesn’t know who will audition, what the chemistry of the eventual cast members will be or even what the sets and costumes will look like. Director Greg Procaccino might have had a lucky streak with his production of Guys and Dolls, currently at Covedale Theatre — but I suspect he didn’t leave it to chance.
Guys and Dolls is a classic musical from 1950, one that I’m wagering most of the audience had seen in the past, either onstage or in the 1955 Brando/Sinatra movie version. It’s a fable about some loveable New York City gangsters who desperately need to keep their “floating” crap game going to pacify a threatening mob from Chicago. Embedded in this milieu is a Salvation Army-style mission, which naturally gets caught up in the action.
Frank Loesser’s score is a cornucopia of lush melodies, clever contrapuntal harmonies and witty lyrics. Soaring ballads include the likes of “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “If I Were a Bell, I’d be Ringing” and “More I Cannot Wish You.” Loesser was equally comfortable with hot, jazzed-up showstoppers like “Luck be a Lady,” “Marry the Man Today” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”
The man of the hour is Sky Masterson (Mike Sherman), the only gangster who seems to have a clue as to what’s going on.
A show like Guys and Dolls can be tricky because of the exaggerated nature of its characters. They are somewhat cartoonish, but they must also be relatable as real people. Nathan Detroit (Bob Brunner) is grace under fire as the stressed-out crap game czar who additionally faces problems with his girlfriend, Miss Adelaide (Lesley Hitch). Adelaide, a Hot Box dancer, is understandably growing weary of a 14-year relationship without a proposal of marriage. Hitch is golden with the character’s comic one-liners, but she also portrays Adelaide’s intuitive, human side.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of this production is its ensemble. Every person onstage is attuned to the moment at hand, so the attention of the audience never flags. Outstanding characters include Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Bryan Franke), a gregarious, food-loving gangster; General Cartwright (Lisa DeRoberts), a no-nonsense maven of the mission movement; and Brannigan (Tom Highley), a tough-talking but luckless cop.
A quartet of athletic male dancers enlivened the evening, as did the crackerjack pit orchestra. Settings by Matt Lape were ingenious as well as stylish, and the saturated lighting by Danny Reed enhanced the changes of mood considerably.
It’s highly doubtful that a production of this quality could have come together so well with just dumb luck. Director Procaccino consciously engineered a seamless night of genuine entertainment.
Guys and Dolls, presented by the Covedale Center for the Performing Arts, continues through Oct. 26.