Muny’s 101st season opens with a spectacular ‘Guys and Dolls’

From left, Jordan Gelber, Kendra-Kassebaum, Jared-Gertner and Orville-Mendoza perform in the Muny production of “Guys and Dolls.” Photo: Phillip Hamer/THE MUNY 

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

For its 101stseason opener, the Muny selected “Guys and Dolls,” considered by many to be the best American musical comedy of all time, whose fame was enhanced by a film based on the Broadway show.

Unveiling state-of-the-art renovations, including a new stage and lighting, the Muny was transformed into a phantasmagoria of iconic images from the Times Square section of New York City.  The Camel cigarette sign blows puffs of smoke from a large billboard. There are iconic logos for the Automat, signs advertising trips to the “Paradise of Havana,” a Planters Mr. Peanut sign, and in one key scene, the inside of a Manhattan sewer where lead character Nathan Detroit has arranged as the venue for the “oldest established crap game in New York.” 

This timeless classic about gamblers and sinners revolves around Nathan (Jordan Gelber), the mastermind of a floating crap game who happens to be down on his luck, and Sky Masterson (Ben Davis), a champion gambler known for making outrageous wages he is sure he can win. But what if, Nathan reasons, he makes a bet with Sky that he knows the gambler cannot win – a bet that has to do with romancing Sgt. Sarah Brown (Brittany Bradford), leader of a Salvation Army-type mission.

Meanwhile Nathan has his own romance problems, concerning his longtime showgirl fiancée Miss Adelaide (Kendra Kassebaum). She’s growing short of patience after waiting 14 years for Nathan to propose.

“Guys and Dolls is a very “Jewish” show. Frank Loesser who wrote the immortal lyrics and music was Jewish as were Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows who wrote the book.  The dialogue, which is vintage New York is punctuated with frequent Yiddishisms like “nu.” 

The cast is perfect in every respect. Gelber’s Nathan Detroit is spot on, a wonderful homage to Frank Sinatra who originated the role in the 1955 movie version.  Poor Nathan is caught between his sexy showgirl fiancee and pressure from his high rolling gambling friends to find a cop-proof venue for his legendary crap game. As Miss Adelaide, Kassebaum steals the show with her high energy, heartfelt performance of such numbers as “Adelaide’s Lament,” which singing with a nasal, New York accent, points out that waiting so long for a marriage proposal “a POI-son [person] can develop a cold.”

Both Davis and Bradford, convincingly portray Sky and Sarah, respectively, whose mismatched relationship lends a certain poignancy, and humor, to the proceedings.

Rounding out the cast are Nathan’s gambling cronies, including the comedic Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Orville Mendoza), whose rollicking version of “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” delights, andthe ruthless Big Jule (Brendan Averett), from East Cicero, Ill., who ensures he is a sure winner at the crap game by flashing the revolver in his vest pocket.

Superb musical direction is provided by Brad Haak; choreography by Lorin Latarrro and Patrick O’Neill, and overall direction by Gordon Greenberg under the leadership of Muny  Artistic Director and Executive Producer Mike Isaacson.

“Guys and Dolls” is at the Muny through June 16. It is well worth taking in as an example of American musical theater at its best on what is now truly a world-class stage.