Mil­wau­kee Rep’s ‘Guys and Dolls’ is a show­stop­per from be­gin­ning to end

Wisconsin Gazette - - Opinion -

Mil­wau­kee Rep artis­tic di­rec­tor Mark Cle­ments has hit the jack­pot with his rous­ing, col­or­ful and finely tuned sea­son opener Guys and Dolls. Don’t gam­ble on miss­ing this sure­fire hit — get your tick­ets now be­cause they’re cer­tain to go fast.

Why so cer­tain? First of all, there’s the mu­sic. Frank Loesser’s score is among the most tune­ful and pop­u­lar in the Amer­i­can mu­si­cal canon. The hits just keep com­ing, from the ex­u­ber­ant “If I Were a Bell” to the plain­tive “I’ll Know (When My Love Comes Along)” and from the gospel-in­fused “Sit Down You’re Rock­ing the Boat” to the dra­matic “Luck Be a Lady,” which Frank Si­na­tra made into a chart top­per.

Ar­rive at the the­ater pre­pared to clap your hands and tap your feet — when you’re not stand­ing on them, that is, to de­liver an ova­tion.

The book, by Abe Bur­rows and Joe Sw­er­ling, is faith­ful to the short sto­ries by jour­nal­ist Da­mon Run­yon that in­spired it. The quirky char­ac­ters and di­a­logue throb with the au­then­tic­ity of the news­pa­per­man, who walked the night­time streets of post-Pro­hi­bi­tion Man­hat­tan with a pen­cil and re­porter’s pad.

The play’s sim­ple, clas­sic-comedic plot fol­lows two seem­ingly mis­matched cou­ples as they nav­i­gate their way to­ward to­geth­er­ness amid the un­der­ground crap­shoots and bur­lesque par­lors of New York’s seed­ier side. The char­ac­ters seem of in­ter­est only to the Chris­tian mis­sion­ar­ies hell-bent on sav­ing them — and the po­lice de­ter­mined to lock them up.

POW­ER­HOUSE LEADS

The plot is set in mo­tion by gam­bling im­pre­sario Nathan Detroit (a like­able Richard R. Henry), op­er­a­tor of “the old­est es­tab­lished, per­ma­nent-float­ing crap game in New York.” The heat is on Nathan, both from Lt. Bran­ni­gan (a men­ac­ing Matt Daniels) and Miss Ade­laide (Kel­ley Faulkner), his long-in­tended bride.

A bur­lesque dancer at the Hot Box club, Ade­laide has been wait­ing 14 years for Detroit to lead her down the aisle to a hap­pily-ever-af­ter life with six kids and a green picket fence. Now she’s ready to walk on Nathan if he doesn’t give up the dice and show her the ice (that’s 1950s-speak for “put a ring on it”).

The wait has had a devastating ef­fect on her up­per re­s­pi­ra­tory sys­tem — as we learn in the won­der­fully witty num­ber “Ade­laide’s Lament.” Faulkner milks this sidesplit­tingly funny mu­si­cal mono­logue for all it’s worth, setting a new bar of clev­er­ness for future Ade­laides.

Ade­laide’s coun­ter­part is the evan­gel­i­cal cru­sader Sarah Brown (a wren-like Emma Rose Brooks who’s itch­ing to take flight). She’s tasked with some of the score’s most de­mand­ing vo­cals, and she de­liv­ers — with a stun­ning range that darts from her crys­tal col­oratura pre­sen­ta­tion of “I’ll Know” to the down-to-earth gid­di­ness of “If I Were a Bell.”

Brown’s ro­man­tic mis­match is the hard­ened heart­throb Sky Master­son (Ni­cholas Ro­driguez), a dap­per pea­cock who can have any “dame” and chooses “nun” (tech­ni­cally, she’s a mis­sion­ary).

Ro­driguez is a pow­er­house per­former who ar­rives at The Rep with a ro­bust ré­sumé of high-pro­file roles and a tenor so rich and strong it can raise goose­bumps. His per­for­mance is mag­netic and soul­ful. We watch his heart melt, and we believe it.

NEAR-PER­FECT ENSEM­BLE

An­other tal­ent wor­thy of men­tion is Michael J. Fa­rina (as Nicely-Nicely John­son), an ac­tor, singer and dancer of im­pec­ca­ble tal­ent who uses his well­honed tech­nique to out­shine ensem­ble mem­bers who are younger and sup­pler.

That’s quite a com­pli­ment, be­cause the ensem­ble’s mem­bers are near per­fec­tion. In ad­di­tion to prov­ing ex­cel­lent in­di­vid­u­ally in their song-and-dance num­bers, they work to­gether un­der the pre­cise mu­si­cal di­rec­tion of Dan Kazemi and chore­og­ra­pher Stephen Mear.

They also present some mag­i­cal mo­ments of vo­cal har­mony.

Mear puts the cast through some of the showiest foot­work you’re likely to see on a Mil­wau­kee stage. To the credit of Cle­ments and Mear, the song and dance num­bers tran­si­tion or­gan­i­cally from the di­a­logue and plot.

The bal­letic stag­ing of “Luck Be a Lady,” the rous­ing cho­rus and char­ac­ter flour­ishes of “Sit Down You’re Rock­ing the Boat,” and the ex­trav­a­gant sto­ry­telling and breath­tak­ing moves of “Ha­vana” are high­lights. But equally ef­fec­tive are the quiet, heart­felt rev­e­la­tions of “I’ll Know” and “More I Can­not Wish You,” the lat­ter de­liv­ered with grand­fa­therly ten­der­ness and con­vic­tion by David Hess as Ar­vide Aber­nathy.

PHOTO: MICHAEL BROSILOW

Kel­ley Faulkner, cen­ter, shows off an im­pres­sive flair with com­edy in the Rep’s cur­rent pro­duc­tion of

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