The setup: Damon Runyon's sharply etched portrait of clandestine gamblers is brought to vivid stage life in Guys and Dolls, the Tony Award-winning, long-running B'way hit of 1950, and the current revival from Theatre Under the Stars reminds us of the glory that once was Broadway.
The execution: Outside of some opening night miking problems, all went well. Gigantic neon letters spell out the title of the show, and part to reveal a set of such color and vitality that one fears for the actors having to compete with it, but such concern is baseless indeed, as the actors themselves are so well-costumed (each one a work of art in itself) and perform so brilliantly that we enter wholeheartedly into a circus-like demi-world of gambling and deceit, bets and machinations, torrid love and desperate yearnings. In short, we are home.
We have a plot chock-full of action, not one but two love stories, minor characters fully fleshed out, suspense, and, yes, even a happy ending. One could ask for no more. The songs are rousing and memorable -- you will know many of them, and the lyrics speak simply and directly to the heart.
The love interest is between successful, big-time gambler Sky Masterson (Joseph Mahowald) and Sarah Brown (Susan Powell), manager of a Mission, and their romantic duets are poignant and persuasive. Powell has a lovely, clear voice that stirs the soul, and the duet that closes Act One, "I've Never Been in Love Before," is an emotional powerhouse.
The plot revolves around Nathan Detroit (Matt Merchant), a gambler with a bad case of the shorts, who is intent on continuing a 14-year engagement to Miss Adelaide (Jen Cody). Nathan is suave, largely unscrupulous and yet likable, and Merchant pulls off this trifecta with a sure hand. And Cody herself can do no wrong -- she is a convincing actor with precise comic timing -- she can and does sell a song (luckily, several), and she adds an extra jolt of electricity on every entrance. The classic "Adelaide's Lament" and "Take Back Your Mink" are among her many triumphs.
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Cameron J. Ross as Nicely-Nicely nails "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" with a strong assist by Lisa Landa, and Ven Daniel plays Nathan's other cohort with verve and style. Kevin Cooney's solo "More I Cannot Wish You" is thoughtful and sweet, and Brian Barry brings appropriate menace to Big Julie.
The huge cast works wonderfully as an ensemble and are admirable as individuals when needed, and director Roy Hamlin, who put all this magic together, must be touched by genius. The creators of course are Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, whom we hope are looking down with pride.
The verdict: One of the all-time legends of Broadway is given masterful acting, soaring singing, rollicking humor and brilliant direction, to create a masterpiece worthy of the original.
The plays runs through October 9 at Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, 713-558-8887.