Colin Nies as Sky Masterson, Megan Sands as Sarah Brown, Carrie Houchins-Witt as Adelaide, and Rob Keech as Nathan Detroit
Coralville—“Community theater,” says director Josh Sazon in his Director’s Note, “is, by its very nature, a bit of a crapshoot.” City Circle Acting Company of Coralville’s production of Guys and Dolls definitely comes up seven. Or five. Or however you win at dice shooting—here’s where I admit I don’t actually understand a thing about shooting craps. My lack of understanding, though, does not in any way diminish my enjoyment of this lively production.
Guys and Dolls is set in the early 1950s, when "guys was guys" and the only reason they might do something so crazy as to get a job or rent a nice apartment was for “some doll.” The first characters we meet, and therefore are sympathetic to, are part of the colorful but seedy underbelly of New York. Gamblers and drunkards, always trying to keep one step ahead of the law (as portrayed by Joseph Dobrian’s Lt. Brannigan). Next we meet the hard working missionaries of an obvious homage to the Salvation Army; dressed in military gear and marching down the streets, exhorting the sinners to “follow the fold.”
The sinners and the saints are drawn together when huckster Nathan Detroit, who needs $1000 to hold a spot in the local auto garage for his “longest established permanent floating craps game in New York,” bets high rolling gambler Sky Masterson that he can’t get Sergeant Sarah of the Mission to go to Havana with him the next day. Sky presents himself to the Mission, woos Sara, and due to the laws of musical theatre physics, she goes to Havana and they fall in love. The characters all speak deliberately, with spaces in between each word. It took a bit for my ear to adjust to this rhythm, but when it did, it felt authentic to the Runyonesque atmosphere. It’s not many authors that get an entire adjective devoted to their last name.
In contrast to the new and exciting love of Sara and Sky, we see Nathan Detroit and his fiancée Adelaide, to whom he has been affianced for fourteen years. Rob Keech’s Nathan Detroit is the show’s strongest character , the man who sets the whole plan in action. He’s just a no-goodnik, he says, but he clearly loves his Adelaide, even if they never do make it official. Rob expertly maneuvered his character from huckster to lovelorn man, in a fabulous suit of bright blue.
Megan Sands’ Sarah Brown is the heroine of the show, the character who changes from a stiff mission “doll” who will only marry a button down, pipe smoking, Brooks Brothers type, to the kind who gets in brawls in Havana and finally lets her hair down—literally. Megan’s soaring soprano was beautiful . In contrast, our other heroine, long suffering Adelaide, played by Carrie Houchins-Witt, had a deep strong voice invested with pathos and wit.
Colin Nies’ Sky Masterson had a presence that commanded the stage every time he appeared. It never seemed in any doubt that he would win any bet he placed, but he didn’t swagger, he just calmly accepted it.
The two characters who weave their way throughout the show, Larry Newman’s Benny Southstreet and David Rudolph’s Nicely Nicely Johnson, were enjoyable comic relief and fun to watch as they danced and interacted. Their sparkle lit up the stage in every scene they graced. Nicely Nicely leads one of the show’s best tunes, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” At times the ensemble chorus did overwhelm Rudolph’s voice.
Nelson Gurll’s Chicago gambler Big Jule was a man of few words, but when he spoke, he always got a laugh.
The chorus girls of the Hot Box were perfectly harmonized and always in sync with one another during their dance routines; it was a shame that the fellas there to see them weren’t as interested in their dancing and singing as they were in their skimpy undergarments.
The choreography of Doug and Jill Beardsley was fabulous; ranging from a soft-shoe routine with our favorite ne’er do wells Benny and Nicely Nicely, to a stage-filling tango-slash fight that left all but one couple on the floor, to a dice-shootin’ ballet fraught with tension.
The show featured a superb live orchestra, never overpowering the singers but accompanying them beautifully. Frank Loesser’s music is as catchy now as it was 50 years ago; I dare you to leave the show without singing about good ol’ reliable Nathan Detroit.
Every costume in this show was excellent and well suited to its character, from the zoot suits of the ruffians in the ensemble to the gingham dresses of the girls who dance behind Miss Adelaide at the Hot Box.
A note to the audience: you may have silenced your phone, but the people sitting behind you and next to you can still see you texting someone for half the play. If it’s that important, go home. It’s disrespectful to the audience and to the players. You’re not present in the theater with your thumbs on a keypad.
I highly recommend Guys and Dolls. The music is clear and resonant, the singing and dancing are excellent, and the whole production will leave you happy.
Guys and Dolls runs through June 24 at the Coralville Center for the Performing Arts. Show times are 7:30 Fridays and Saturdays and 2:00 Sundays. Tickets are $22-27 ($17 seniors/students, $12 children).