I entered the Nederlander Theater with a decided sense of doom. The reviews, as well as the word on the street, for the current revival of Guys and Dolls were dismissive, to say the least, if not downright excoriating. As the orchestra struck the first chords of Frank Loesser's classic score, I braced myself for the worst.
But then a funny thing happened. I started to enjoy the show. I had come in expecting the worst, and found myself almost involuntarily caught up the the energy of the production, the appeal of the performers, and the sheer strength and genius of the piece itself.
I had always claimed that Guys and Dolls was director-proof. Unlike, say Carousel, which demands a very strong directorial hand, Guys and Dolls simply requires decent casting and an engaging pace, or at least that's what I had always thought. When I heard the bad word about the current production, I started to think that I might have been mistaken. Director Des McAnuff and choreographer Sergio Trujillo certainly demonstrated
with Jersey Boys that they can work magic with swift pacing and slick theatrics. Wouldn't it be that much easier if they started with infinitely superior material?
Well, if the McAnuff/Tujillo lightning hasn't exactly struck twice, what they've created with Guys and Dolls is never less than entertaining. It's possible that, in the weeks that have passed since the show opened, the cast has settled more comfortably into their roles, and the production has gelled in a way that it somehow didn't during the preview process. All I know is that the show that I saw last Saturday night didn't look anything like the disaster than so many had proclaimed it to be. Sure, it can't hold a candle to the stellar 1992 Guys and Dolls revival, but it nonetheless has its own considerable raft of charms.
Chief among those charms are the two lead actresses, Lauren Graham and Kate Jennings Grant as Adelaide and Sarah Brown, respectively. Graham, better known as the mom on "The Gilmore Girls," was simply a delight. She managed to make her performance completely distinct from those of her formidable predecessors, Vivian Blaine and Faith Prince. Graham brings a sweet obtuseness to the role, and I for one was thoroughly charmed. Grant crafts a similarly distinctive performance, bringing both dimension and vitality to a role that all to frequently fades into the scenery.
The men are slightly less distinct, but more than serviceable. Oliver Platt doesn't leave much of an impression as Nathan Detroit. He's no Nathan Lane, that's for sure, but he's affable enough. Craig Bierko makes for a fine Sky Masterson, although his performance as Harold Hill in the most recent revival of The Music Man was a lot more dynamic and memorable. The admittedly talented Titus Burgess is simply miscast as Nicely Nicely Johnson. He sings the hell out of "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," but otherwise he seems awkward and uncomfortable in the role.
So, I went in expecting another Pal Joey: a show that was even worse than the reviews suggested. (Read my review here.) What I got was a thoroughly professional production that was nowhere near the embarassment that the reviews would have you believe.