Stylish guys and snazzy dolls fall a bit short

  • Article by: ROHAN PRESTON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 20, 2011 - 11:50 AM

Theater review: "Guys and Dolls" is full of style and pizazz, even if the show took a while to click on opening night. The stars' chemistry is a bonus.

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Billie Wildrick as Miss Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls.” Her version of “Take Back Your Mink” is one of the highlights of the production.

Maybe I was asking too much of the theater gods.

On the same weekend that Peter Rothstein's Broadway-caliber staging of "Annie" closed at Minneapolis' Children's Theatre, the curtains opened on Rothstein's "Guys and Dolls."

It would have been a nice game of theatrical tag for the director to go from strength to strength. But "Guys and Dolls," which bowed Friday at St. Paul's Ordway Center, falls short of the lofty "Annie."

It's not that this staging of "Guys and Dolls" is a stinker by any stretch. This update of the Frank Loesser classic, which has new interstitial orchestrations by Bruce Monroe, is still a show of style, love and morality. Rothstein has infused it with lots of pizazz while lightening its simplistic message.

The story, adapted by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows from Damon Runyan's writings, is almost biblical. Sergeant Sarah Brown (Katherine Strohmaier) wants to save souls from sin. Gangster Sky Masterson (Matt Farnsworth) wants to win, no matter the subject. He woos her on a bet. Love leads the way to faith.

Things took a while to click at Friday's opening, which was surprising, given that this "Guys and Dolls" had a multi-week tryout in Seattle. Some of the actors, including the genial gangster trio Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Todd Buonopane), Benny Southstreet (Greg McCormick Allen) and Rusty Charlie (Allen Galli), seemed to be trying too hard for laughs. The antics added to the feeling of the show being, well, antique.

The recurring parade of guys and dolls began to seem like filler. We only needed to see the dolls walking their obviously fake dogs once, no matter how fetching everyone looked in Gregory Poplyk's striking costumes or on Kate Sutton-Johnson's evocative set.

Rothstein has a fairly winning cast. As Sarah and Sky, Strohmaier and Farnsworth have a beautiful chemistry together, especially on the first-act closer, "I've Never Been in Love Before." Her spitfire passion plays well against his Dick Tracy-esque solidness.

Billie Wildrick is delightful as long-engaged moll Adelaide. Her "Take Back Your Mink" is a highlight.

As roly-poly Nicely-Nicely, Buonopane has a big moment in the second act with "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." Clayton Corzatte, as grandfather Arvide, is winsome on "More I Cannot Wish You."

The orchestra, under maestro Joel Fram's flawless baton, delivers with lyricism and rich color. If the show seems dated, it's partly because we live in an age when a married congressman with a newly pregnant wife tweets images of his package to sundry admirers. It's difficult for "Guys and Dolls" to compete with that.

rpreston@startribune.com • 612-673-4390

  • GUYS AND DOLLS

    Who: Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Directed by Peter Rothstein. A co-production of the Ordway Center and Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Fri. 2 & 7:30 p.m. Sat.-Sun. Ends June 26.

    Where: Ordway Center, 345 Washington St., St. Paul.

    Tickets: $36 and up. 651.224.4222 or www.ordway.org.

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