A Good Time
Looking for a Broadway musical that lets the brainwaves relax and the funnybone roam? Have a thing for exuberant dance numbers, exquisite costumes and an old-fashioned love story? Don't mind overamplified voices, stand-and-sing ballads and a steady barrage of groaners?
Then hie thee hither to the Arvada Center's outdoor amphitheater, where Frank Loesser's classic Guys and Dolls (book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows) is amusing audiences of all ages. Based on one of former Denver resident Damon Runyon's stories about wisecracking New Yorkers, the 1950 musical features a cavalcade of toe-tapping tunes that, on opening night, had a few in the audience feeling so at home that they decided to sing along and/or chat between each verse. The show's freewheeling tone also seems to have encouraged director Tim Bair to highlight the Miss Adelaide/Nathan Detroit subplot at the expense of the main one, that between the romantic pair of Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown. While that choice sometimes pays off in scenes of broad comedy, it often turns the show into the cheesy nightclub act it's intended to parody -- one that the audience rewarded with the usual automatic standing ovation (which promptly ended two seconds after the actors took their first bows).
Questions of directorial emphasis aside, the smiler proves a feast for the senses. And the many fine performers impress as they entertain. While he has to wait until the end to strut his stuff, veteran hoofer Rick Hilsabeck, who plays Nicely-Nicely Johnson, bides his time and leads the company in a rousing version of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." Joan Staples taps into Sarah Brown's conflicting feelings of duty and desire with the beautifully sung "I'll Know" and "I've Never Been in Love Before." Daniel Guzman is too laid-back as her romantic partner, Sky Masterson, but he's unfailingly likable and manages to ratchet things up when he needs to, as he does during "Luck Be a Lady." Gregory Price endears as the wayward Nathan Detroit, and Charles Hudson shines as Arvide Abernathy, an elder statesman who has to make but a single threat to bring about the show's happy ending.
Unfortunately, Beth Flynn's portrait of Miss Adelaide starts out over the top and gets bigger, louder and more annoying as the show progresses. The audience revels in her antics (she's developed an impressive local following over the years), but this is one instance where a measure of restraint, in short supply elsewhere in the show, would have yielded richer comic rewards, not to mention being easier on the ears.
Performances that serve the play better can be found among the many chorus members, who hit their marks, back up leading singers and fill in this or that crowd scene with ease and precision. The male ensemble members, clad in brightly colored suits and fedora hats, do a fine job with several dance numbers, especially "The Crap Shooters Ballet." And their distaff counterparts, who look dynamite in skimpy nightclub outfits or flowing period dresses, delight during "A Bushel and a Peck" and "Take Back Your Mink." To their collective credit, choreographer Troy Rintala, scenic designer Richard H. Pegg, lighting designer Gail J. Gober and costume designers Sally A. Burke and Nicole M. Hoof -- and the small army they must have assembled to construct every Technicolored stitch of clothing -- band together to imbue the play with strong production values. Despite the show's glaring (and blaring) shortcomings, it's a pleasure to see several glitzy dance numbers come off so well, especially in an age when excess and overkill are often mistaken for atmosphere and style.
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