Damon Runyon’s picturesque band of New York denizens have arrived in Claremont for an all-around terrific revival of Frank Loesser’s 1950 Broadway classic Guys And Dolls.
Based on a story and characters created by Runyon and adapted for the musical stage by songwriter Loesser and book writers Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, Guys And Dolls brings to infectious musical life the Fellas And Gals of a post-WWII Times Square.
There’s high-rolling gambler Sky Masterson (Allen Everman), who wagers he can convince virginal Save-A-Soul Mission “Doll” Sarah Brown (Ashley Grether) to join him on an overnighter to Havana.
There’s feckless but lovable gambler Nathan Detroit (Victor Hernandez), ever on the lookout for a new venue for the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.”
Meanwhile, Nathan’s fourteen-year-long engagement to Miss Adelaide (Stacy Huntington), headline dancer at the Hot Box Nightclub, has been going on for so long that it has caused poor Adelaide a psychosomatic cold, quite possibly one of the longest on record.
Among the small-time gamblers who populate “Runyonland” are Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Robert Hoyt), Benny Southstreet (Will Huse), and Rusty Charlie (Jared Reed) whose “Fugue For Tinhorns” not only expresses their devotion to sniffing out today’s winning horse, but starts Guys And Dolls out with a three-part harmony bang.
Along for comic menace is “mountainous” Chicago kingpin Big Jule (Emerson Boatwright), whose desire to win is every bit as massive as his nickname would suggest, something he makes sure to do by using dice that “ain’t got no spots.”
Will Sky be able to persuade Sarah to fly with him to Cuba? Will Nathan take advantage of the couple’s absence to hold tonight’s crap game inside the Save-A-Soul mission? Will Miss Adelaide convince Nathan to marry her and in so doing, finally get over her cold? Will Sarah find out Sky’s real name?
There’s hardly a musical theater aficionado who doesn’t know the answers to these questions, and even those who’ve never seen Guys And Dolls can probably win their own bet by correctly guessing the answers.
The pleasures in Guys And Dolls are not so much plot-related as in the memorable characters that Runyon created and that performers have relished bringing to life for the past sixty-six years, as well as in the show’s many song standards and production numbers.
Guys And Dolls classics include the upbeat, dancy “Luck Be A Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat,” ballads like “I’ll Know” and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” a couple of sparkling Miss Adelaide and the Hot Box Girls’ specialty numbers, and Adelaide showcases “Adelaide’s Lament” and “Sue Me.”
As for the justly famed show-opening “Runyonland,” the production number not only sets the New York City street scene and introduces Guys And Dolls’ lead characters but provides Candlelight audiences with their first glimpses of Laurie Muniz’s pizzazzy choreography.
Under John LaLonde’s assured direction, Guys And Dolls stars the kind of topnotch cast that musical theatergoers have come to expect on the Candlelight Pavilion stage.
Standout Everman displays equal parts talent and versatility as Sky, a role he can now add to the Broadway icons (Company’s Bobby, Oklahoma!’s Curly, Bye Bye Birdie’s Albert, The Music Man’s Harold Hill) he has under his belt, and his Company costar Grether shows off a lovely soprano as Sarah.
Broadway vet Hernandez plays delightfully against type as Nathan opposite Candlelight favorite Huntington’s delectable Miss Adelaide, the duo’s work here exhibiting so much chemistry, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the twosome first performed together as teens.
Hoyt’s infectiously likeable Nicely-Nicely is joined by the dynamic duo of Huse and Reed for a trio-tastic “Fugue For Tinhorns,” while Boatwright gives “Big” Julie abundant tough guy punch.
Spenser Micetich (Harry The Horse), Fiona Flyte (General Cartwright), and John Nisbit (Arvide Abernathy) do tiptop work as well, and Jim Marbury is an appropriately tough Lieutenant Brannigan.
Completing the cast is the abundantly talented triple-threat ensemble of Fabio Antonio (Society Max), Fernando Christopher (Angie The Ox), dance captain Michael Gonzalez (Liver Lips Louie), John McGavin (Mission Band – Calvin, MC, Brandy Bottle Bates), and Chad Takeda (Scranton Slim), and Hot Box Girls Rachel Burkert, Tracy Freeman (Mimi), Marie Gutierrez (Agatha), Kylie Molnar (Martha), Burkert doubling as assistant choreographer.
Musical director Andrew Orbison gets top marks as well, his cast performing to prerecorded tracks that sound almost live thanks to Candlelight’s excellent sound system.
Scenic designer Greg Hinrichsen gives Guys And Dolls a Technicoloriffic set that’s just right for the piece as are the 1950s costumes coordinated by Merrill Grady, with Steve Giltner’s vibrant lighting adding to the production’s highly professional look.
Natalie Jackson is stage manager. Orlando Montes is technical director. Executive chef Juan Alvarado and sous chef Maria Sandoval serve up Candlelight’s invariably yummy cuisine. Kudos as always to Candlelight Pavilion owner/producer Ben D. Bollinger, general manager/vice president Michael Bollinger, acting producer Mindy Teuber, and especially to artistic director LaLonde.
Sixty-six years after its debut on The Great White Way, Guys And Dolls has gone from theatrical classic to Broadway legend. Anyone interested in finding out why could do no better than to spend a couple of hours in Runyonland at Candelight Pavilion.
Candlelight Pavilion, 455 W. Foothill Blvd., Claremont.
January 17, 2016