In 1960, Bloomington Civic Theatre debuted with a production of the then-current musical "Guys and Dolls." But it's hard to imagine that it could hold a candle to the current staging.

From the opening ballet, director/choreographer Michael Matthew Ferrell successfully creates the quirky characters of the fictional world of short-story writer Damon Runyon, establishing the lowlife world of Broadway in the 1920s and '30s through inventive movement.

This is more impressive in that he gets no help from the sets of Erica Zaffrano, whose designs are sterile and abstract, not at all evocative.

Music director Anita Ruth's orchestra gives a sparkling rendition of the standards-laden score, and she does an especially good job with the male ensemble. The tight harmonies in "The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York" are thrilling.

And Ferrell turns the young ensemble into a strong dancing chorus. That is especially true of the Hot Box Dolls, who dazzle in their renditions of "Bushel and a Peck" and the burlesque-inspired "Take Back Your Mink."

The female leads are stronger than the men, but together they form a nice set of comic and romantic duos.

Hands down, Rachel Weber walks away with the evening as Miss Adelaide, the nightclub singer with a perpetual cold. Her "Adelaide's Lament" is a comic tour de force that adds a nice level of pathos as well.

Holli Richgels brings a strong soprano to Sarah Brown, the Salvation Army missionary. Her transition from tough-minded moralist to married woman is genuinely touching.

As Sky Masterson, the gambler who sets out to woo Sarah on a bet, Joshua Paul Smith is a bit stiff as an actor, but when he sings, he more than makes up for it. His duet with Sarah, "I've Never Been in Love Before," is a highlight of the evening.

Bill Rolon is a bit colorless as gambler Nathan Detroit, especially compared with all the "characters" in the ensemble, but he makes a nice foil for Adelaide.

Among the supporting cast, Lamar Jefferson is a standout as Nicely-Nicely for his rendition of "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" and with Andrew Newman and A.J. Longabaugh for the stunning counterpoint in "Fugue for Tinhorns."

This production gets Bloomington Center for the Arts' 54th season off to a strong start.

William Randall Beard writes frequently about theater and music.