“Guys and Dolls” is a popular musical based on several stories by Damon Runyan, a writer enormously popular in the first half of the twentieth century for his comic tales of gangsters, gamblers, and other unsavory types in whom Runyan often found a heart. The main plot of the musical centers around two gamblers making a wager as to whether one of them (Sky Masterson) can bring a naïve “missionary doll” (to adopt the parlance of Runyan) to Havana. Masterson’s intent of courting her as part of a bet is, to say the least, morally questionable. Yet he unexpectedly reveals to her his real name (Obadiah, after the Old Testament prophet) and even corrects her knowledge of the Bible (“No peace unto the wicked” is from the Book of Isaiah, not the Book of Proverbs). These exchanges suggest that Sky and Miss Sarah Brown may have more in common than initially appears. Indeed, Andrew Fehrenbacher as Sky and Kate Stenzel as Sarah in the current Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre production begin to realize they may share the same views of life and love in their beautifully sung duet “I’ll Know.” A further duet, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” cements this impression while showcasing soprano Stenzel’s operatic voice.
A superior production…wonderful…
The current Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre production puts its own stamp on the Frank Loesser classic musical in a number of ways, but especially in the choreography of Brandon Alexander Shawl. This is certainly witnessed in the charming number of Miss Adelaide (Melissa Whitworth) and the “Hot Box Girls” performing “A Bushel and a Peck.” Adeliade/Melissa particularly shines in a variously funny and poignant “Adelaide’s Lament.”
The love-sick Adelaide comically seeks to make her unwilling husband-to-be, crapshooter Nathan Detroit, a conventional stay-at-home husband. The duet between Melissa Whitworth and Craig Smith as Nathan in “Sue Me” shows—especially in an extended musical note that they share—that their two personalities match, providing a comic counterpoint to the unexpected Sarah Brown/Sky Masterson pairing. Kate Stenzel of the operatic voice who plays Sarah Brown switches to a more subdued vocal technique in order to match Adelaide/Melissa’s style as she joins the forlorn Adelaide in decrying the two men that apparently cannot be redeemed (Sky and Nathan) but whom the women nonetheless love. They come up with a clever plan in “Marry the Man” today, to the comic and musical delight of the audience. The number “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in this production also comes in for high praise in a charismatic performance by Tyler Price as Nicely-Nicely Johnson.
A superior production of “Guys and Dolls” could be said to rest on whether the performance convinces the viewers towards the end of Act 1 that they are no longer merely spectators of “Guys and Dolls” but members of the audience of an actual nightclub floorshow in 1950’s Havana in pre-Castro Cuba. In the stunning number “Havana,” this production achieves such verisimilitude with aplomb. The orchestra directed by JP Meyer and the choreography by the aforementioned Mr. Shawl are nothing short of brilliant in this regard, especially when Mission Sergeant Sarah engages in a very stylized nightclub brawl. The colorful and warm pink-and-green background with tropical palm trees (courtesy of lighting designer Russell Thompson and props designer Nate Rush) add to the retro Havana atmosphere and the Latin-flavored dancing.
“Guys and Dolls,” while focusing on leads Sky and Sarah and to a secondary extent on Miss Adelaide and Nathan, is also notable for the importance of its likable rogues and gamblers, introduced to us in the opening of the production and assembled again in “Luck Be a Lady.” This show-stopper (sung exuberantly by Mr. Fehrenbacher) is performed at the instrumental beginning somewhat in ballet style, with the gamblers dressed in colorfully saturated red, yellow, and orange gangster suits (symbolizing their vibrant personalities). Sky, however, arrives in a white suit, showing his redemption or even purity—again, all solid choices by costume designer John P. White. Further attractive visuals include New York City skyscrapers projected in the background as the lights in the windows switch color. New York is additionally represented by business signs such as “Automat” and “Gotham Grill.” Miss Adelaide’s performance stage and the missionary building are executed adroitly by scenic designer Evan Adamson.
In sum, aficionados of classic musicals who are “looking for some action” but not in the sense of shooting dice are in the best of luck with this wonderful production of “Guys and Dolls.”
Running time: Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
“Guys and Dolls” runs through September 16, 2023, at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre, 510 Centerville Road, Lancaster, PA 17601. For further information and to purchase tickets, call the Box Office at 717-898-1900 or go online. Masks are not required.