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GAMBLING ON A GOOD TIME? `GUYS AND DOLLS' A SURE BET

Going out to the theater these days is not unlike Nathan Detroit's famous and "oldest established" floating dice game.

It's a crapshoot.Will the production you've just spent time and money on come up sevens or snake-eyes? Well, under James Christian's supervision, the Utah Musical Theatre season of "straw hat" musicals seems to come up with one winner after another.

And the Frank Loesser, Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows classic about Damon Runyon's array of colorful Times Square and Broadway characters is a "sure thing" if you're considering whether or not a night in WSU's Allred Theatre is worth a gamble.

The ensemble is mostly first-rate (if some of these young performers don't take a gamble themselves - on next week's "Les Miserables" auditions - I will be very disappointed). Jennifer McGrew's costumes are wonderfully splashy, and Seven Nielsen's scenery is bright and colorful.

Both the costumes and the scenery have a slightly cartoonish, fable-istic look - befitting a show that has long been subtitled "a musical fable of Broadway."

Even the placement of Troy Arnold Fisher's flawless orchestra - right on stage toward the back and not buried down in the pit - adds to the show's unrealistic "fable" look and feel. This arrangement also adds considerably to the two big Hot Box Club production numbers, when the stage is transformed into a Manhattan nightclub for Miss Adelaide's two showstoppers - "A Bushel and a Peck" and "Take Back Your Mink."

But even more than the scenery and the music and the costumes, what really makes this "Guys and Dolls" click is director James R. Taulli's well-honed ensemble.

There are some cast members who could hold their own against any of the Equity players who come through town with national touring productions.

Four of the guys who come immediately to mind are Bret Wheadon (Sky Masterson), Charles E.H. Faulkner (Nicely-Nicely Johnson), Shawn Bender (Big Jule) and Duane V. Stephens (as Nathan Detroit - a custom-tailored role if there ever was one).

And two of the hottest dolls are Paris Bradstreet, who nearly steals the show as Miss Adelaide, a chanteuse who has her own "oldest established" record - of being engaged for 14 years to marriage-shy Nathan, and Linda Morris as straight-arrow Sarah Brown, the sweetheart of the Save-a-Soul Mission.

Wheadon has a combination of voice, looks and charisma that add up to star quality. Keep your eyes on him - he is going places.

Faulkner stopped the show with his big Act Two number, "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat."

Morris fared well in such ballads and duets as "I've Never Been in Love Before" and "Marry the Man Today," but in the loud "belter" numbers her voice has a grating, slightly irritating edge to it.

The program doesn't say who did the choreography. It lists Jennifer Rapp as dance captain, but it would not surprise me if the company's artistic director, Jim Christian, didn't have a hand (and both feet) in it. He has a flair for moving lots of dancers around the stage with snappy movements . . . sort of Utah's answer to Michael Kidd and Busby Berkley.

- Sensitivity rating: Might be a little long for younger kids, but over all this is a family classic. Sure, there are gamblers and scantilly clad chorus girls, but it's all just plain fun and not offensive.

- NOTE: Utah Musical Theatre fans still have five more chances to see UMT's "downstairs" production of "Forever Plaid" in the Browning Center's Monson Theatre. This nifty musical revue, jam-packed with great 1950s tunes, plays Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Seats are not reserved. Call 626-8500 for tickets.