After its January production of “West Side Story,” Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre has turned to another large-cast classic from Broadway’s golden age.
If it were a person, “Guys and Dolls” would already be on Medicare, having come into the world in 1950. Yet there’s nothing creaky about a show that lasted for 1,200 performances, won the best musical Tony Award and was made into a movie starring a so-so singer (Marlon Brando) and a great one (Frank Sinatra).
A side note: The political turmoil of its day affected “Guys and Dolls.” The musical was recommended for but then denied the Pulitzer Prize, due to the board’s skittishness over book co-author Abe Burrows’ troubles with the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee.
“Guys and Dolls” has had several major revivals, including the Tony-winning 1992 production in which Nathan Lane played Nathan Detroit, the character who gave him his stage name (the celebrated actor was born Joseph Lane). The show is musical-theater gold and, unlike some of the bets made by its colorful gambler characters, a near sure thing when the pros know what they’re doing.
At the Wick, they do. Director Jeffrey B. Moss, who staged many a show at the Coconut Grove Playhouse, in New York and in numerous regional theaters, counts “Guys and Dolls” among the three dozen or so national and international tours he has directed. Carbonell Award-nominated choreographer Kelly Shook is in top form with her inventive work on the show. Gail Baldoni’s costumes are as colorful as the characters, culled by Jo Swerling, Burrows and composer-lyricist Frank Loesser from Damon Runyon short stories of the 1920s and ‘30s.
Kirk Bookman’s mood-enhancing lighting somewhat counteracts Randel Wright’s rather cartoonish set. Musical director James Olmstead has a stage full of great voices to sing Loesser’s beloved score, but the prerecorded musical tracks are no substitute for the live instruments these actors deserve. Yes, the economics of doing a show with a cast of 26 in a theater with fewer than 350 seats dictate some compromises, but voices this good deserve the warm give-and-take of live music.
The plot involves the gambling guys and sassy dolls who mix it up around the Times Square area in a time simply described as “yesterday.”
Nathan Detroit (Wayne LeGette) is forever trying to find a spot to hold his long-running, illegal floating crap game while fending off his increasingly impatient fiancée of 14 years, a showgirl known as Miss Adelaide (Lauren Weinberg).
Gambler Sky Masterson (Timothy John Smith) takes Nathan’s bet that Sky can’t persuade a woman of Nathan’s choosing to go to Havana with him for dinner. Nathan picks the righteous Sarah Brown (Aaron Bower) from the nearby Save-a-Soul Mission, certain there’s no way he can lose. Yet ever the savvy manipulator, Sky gets Sarah on that flight to Cuba. And as in most golden-age musical comedies, love conquers all.
Director Moss is blessed not just with his quartet of terrific leads and a chorus of fine singer-dancers, but by the talented actors playing featured characters: Shaun Rice as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Oscar Cheda as Harry the Horse, Michael Cartwright as Lt. Brannigan, Elizabeth Dimon as General Melinda Cartwright, John Galas as Big Jule, Taylor Wright as Benny Southstreet, Kevin Robert Kelly as Rusty Charlie and Peter Galman as Arvide Abernathy.
Smith and Bower, who skew a bit older than the typical Sky and Sarah, are just plain wonderful. Smith has dialogue before he duets with Bower on the soaring “I’ll Know,” and you can tell by the timbre of his speaking voice that he’ll be a wonderful singer — and he is, as he demonstrates on “My Time of Day,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “Luck Be a Lady.” Bower has a gorgeous, pure voice that conveys romantic anticipation in her duets with Smith and excitement as she sings “If I Were a Bell.”
Nathan doesn’t get as many numbers as Sky, but LeGette brings his rich voice and an engaging down-to-earth comic presence to his role. He has a sublime foil in Weinberg’s Miss Adelaide, the perfect Hot Box Club headliner in the novelty numbers “Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink.” Having played the role on tour, Weinberg digs deeper than some performers do, earning empathy as she sniffles and sings of her still-unmarried status in “Adelaide’s Lament.” Her acting is detailed and nuanced, her voice perfectly suited to the material. Like “Guys and Dolls,” she’s a gem.
“Guys and Dolls” runs through April 9 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, in Boca Raton. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and Saturday-Sunday. Tickets cost $75 and $80. To order, call 561-995-2333 or go to TheWick.org.