Kensington Arts Theatre kicks off its new season off in style with a charming production of “Guys and Dolls.” KAT produces a fun and funny staging of the romantic, crowd-pleasing musical.
Set at around the time of its Broadway debut, in 1950, the musical is based on the characters and story of Damon Runyon. Though considering themes that could be seedy, including gangsters and gambling, the story is a candy-colored carousel of music and hijinks.
Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics make for foot-tapping song after foot-tapping song, from the very top of the show, when a singing trio of smart guys in smart suits assure us, and themselves, that they’ve got a sure bet to gamble on (“Fugue for Tinhorns”). The book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling deploys stylish contemporary slang; ‘potatoes’ mean cash, and ‘dolls’ mean women.
We meet the guys before the dolls, and we’re soon introduced to the master gambler, Nathan Detroit, the put-upon purveyor of the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.” Jeff Breslow plays Nathan as a likable guy, more sinned against than sinning; he just wants to find a home for his illegal dice game, and the police chief (possibly a former player in the game), is making it difficult to raise the necessary funds.
KAT stages a deeply fun version of the romantic, crowd-pleasing musical.
Nathan thinks he’s found a solution to his cash-flow problems in the form of Sky Masterson, a high-roller from out of town, who is known for making outrageous gambles. Sky and Nathan’s early back and forth in the first act sets up the romantic thesis of the story. Sky, a loner, argues that “as pleasant as a doll’s company may be, she must always take second place to Aces back to back.” Nathan, a romantic, who is the long-time fiancé of the charming Miss Adelaide, counters that “A doll is a necessity.” Can you take a guess who ends up being right?
A smart guy in the sharpest suit (costume design by Richard “Bat” Battistelli), Sky is nevertheless maneuvered by Nathan into a bet; specifically, that he cannot take the morally upright Sarah Brown, a crusading member of the Salvation Army, on a date. Nathan faces his own romantic gambles with Miss Adelaide, his long-suffering fiancé of 14 years who has finally had it with his illegal occupation.
Elizabeth Hester steals the show as irrepressible Miss Adelaide, doing the most with some very funny lines, of which she has many. “I like it when you forget to get me presents,” she tells Nathan on their anniversary. “It makes me feel like we’re already married.” She uses the character’s broad Brooklyn accent to perfect comedic effect in “Adelaide’s Lament,” an iconic solo that finds the character self-diagnosing her romantic troubles with Nathan.
Adelaide and Nathan have a nice chemistry that makes it clear that, while she doesn’t have a “band of gold,” their relationship is already pleasantly domestic. Jeff Breslow plays Nathan as a teddy bear of a man; his heart is in the right place, just not his pocketbook. Their rendition of “Sue Me,” which finds Adelaide out of patience after he disrupts their elopement once again, is nicely choreographed (courtesy of Kendall Sigman) with the two returning to the stage time and time again, as though appealing to the audience as a divorce court.
Justine Summers excels as the bright-eyed and shiny Sarah, an idealist avowed to save the souls of gamblers on Broadway. In her introductory scene, she steps into the audience, declaring herself “prepared to do battle with the forces of evil,” bringing all the intensity of a Joan of Arc. Summers pairs well with Jordan Clifford’s cool suavity as Sky, who soon swaggers into the mission, ready to make good on his bet with Nathan. Their initial sparring sparks the need for “I’ll Know,” Sarah’s rebuttal to his presumption about her romantic future, and an excellent showcase for Summers’ incredible range.
There are too many great songs to list, and all of them well done. Director Craig Pettinatti makes dynamic use of the space, including seating some grumbling gamblers in the audience during a very funny second-half scene set in Sarah’s Salvation Army mission. Stephen P. Yednock deserves special mention as Big Jule, a starkly unrepentant, wise-cracking gambler.
The gamble all works out for everyone in the end. Characters are reformed, and hearts mended. If you want to see an enjoyable, fun-time musical, this is a sure bet.
Running Time: About two and a half hours with one intermission.
Advisory: If this were a film, it would be rated PG.
“Guys and Dolls” runs through Nov. 24 at Kensington Arts Theatre. For tickets or more information, click here.