Guys and Dolls
The new The Atlanta Lyric Theatre production of "Guys and Dolls" has plenty of style and some effective performances, but it lacks the nuances that would elevate it from being a good production to being a great production.
"Guys and Dolls" is an energetic show that belies the fact that its heyday was in 1951. The plot is very retro. Taken from Damon Runyon short stories about New York in the 1920's, the world of gamblers and hoodlums has been cleaned up and stylized in this story.
The plot centers on two gamblers, Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson. Nathan runs "the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York" and Sky is a flashy, more big-time gambler known to bet on anything. Nathan bets Sky he can't take a certain doll [woman] to Havana, and Sky takes the bet. Then Nathan says he has to get Sarah, a Salvation Army-type missionary, to go. Sky smoothly manipulates her into going. (Note: Havana in the 1950's was a hotspot for nightclubs and gambling, not the seat of a Communist dictatorship.)
Frank Loesser's score is easy on the ear and contains a couple of tour de force numbers, "Adelaide's Lament" and "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat."
The show has always been about performances more than plot, and the actors have to be consummate performers.
Adelaide is Nathan's fiancée, lamenting their 14-year engagement. Lisa Manuli plays her with plenty of energy, and she is very effective in the songs. But sometimes her vocal mannerisms are so annoying as to be cartoonish. I found myself wincing more than once at the whiny nasal New York voice. She needs to stop the show in a good way, not an annoying way.
Logan Denninghoff is a very convincing Sky Masterson except for one very puzzling thing. He plays the entire show with a beard shadow. In 1951, or any time until just recently, well-dressed suave men didn't have beards or beard stubble. It was so un-period and out of character that I found it jarring. It detracted from his singing, which is excellent.
Jamie Wood Katz as Sarah is a talented actress, and she made the most of the part. However, in "I'll Know," which is supposed to be lovely and wistful, her voice was shrill and even sharp, at times.
Finally, the "nuances" I mentioned in the first paragraph are not much in evidence in this production. To be truly memorable and effective a musical must have different energy levels. There need to be moments of quiet intensity. Also, moments of hilarity. Moments of all-out energy and excitement. The Lyric Theatre folks need to refine this production a bit to make those moments happen. The energy is too much the same throughout the show.
Now, I don't want to give the impression that I didn't enjoy the show. I did, very much. The sets are wonderful; very old-school painted backdrops and scenery but that's fine; it fits perfectly with the period. The choreography is very lively and energetic.
Folks should go see this production, certainly. It just needs a bit of tweaking.
"Guys and Dolls" runs through Nov. 10 at the Jennie T. Anderson Theater at the Cobb Civic Center, 548 S. Marietta Parkway Marietta, GA. For information or tickets, call 770-528-8490 or visit atlantalyrictheatre.com/cobb-civic-center.