THEATER REVIEW : ‘GUYS AND DOLLS’ : One More Time : An impressively large cast of 22 performs the often-revived musical ‘Guys and Dolls.’

A Broadway hit in 1950 and a well-received film five years later, “Guys and Dolls” teams colorful characters, snappy patter and catchy songs to form an all-American musical that’s as sure-fire as they come.

Dramatists Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling showed wit and heart in their adaptation of Damon Runyon’s fables of touts and tarts, gamblers and missionaries, and Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics are simultaneously catchy, idiomatic and sophisticated.

“Guys and Dolls” is playing Thursdays through Sundays through June at the Encore Dinner Theatre in Ventura.

For those who have missed the often-revived show, the central characters are a group of off-Broadway gamblers, dominated by debonair Sky Masterson and scheming Nathan Detroit. The “Dolls” are headed by Adelaide, who’s been engaged to the altar-shy Detroit for 14 years, and Sarah Brown, a prim missionary who becomes the object of Masterson’s attention while attempting to save his--and everybody else’s--soul.


In addition to romance, the show’s plot involves Detroit’s efforts to keep alive the institution known, in the song of the same name, as “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York.”

An impressively large cast of 22 men and women perform the Encore version. The production is scaled down a bit, but not harmfully, and Judy Heiliger and Tom Whittington show a fair amount of resourcefulness in their respective roles as director and low-budget scenic designer.

The principals seem to have been cast with an eye on the movie: Andy Brasted, Jim DeCara and (as Nicely-Nicely Johnson) Gordon Pendarvis bear a noticeable resemblance to their film predecessors, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Stubby Kaye.

Each handles his role with aplomb and panache, stronger on the acting side than as singers. Pendarvis surprises the audience with some nimble dancing for the title song (a duet with William McDonald’s Benny Southstreet) and comes close to stopping the show with “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” Sandy Morton is the production’s choreographer, with Karen MacConnell credited as musical director.

Also particularly noteworthy is Connie Cantara, who plays Adelaide, the rather stereotypical bimbo with a heart of gold and more sense than is immediately evident: old-timers remember Vivian Blaine or Judy Holliday; younger people think Victoria Jackson or Madonna.

The other actors and actresses turn in performances that are at least serviceable, though of widely varying skill. But then again, none of the singing in any of the major parts is any worse than Marlon Brando’s was in the movie. And as catchy as songs such as the opening “Fugue for Tinhorns” might be, they’re not easy to sing. Saturday night’s performance was a bit shaky in the timing, which should improve with practice.

The musical--which lasted nearly three hours, including intermission--was preceded by a clever half-hour warm-up by magician James Spencer, and dinner music was played on a couple of synthesizers and sung by voice teacher Paula Jones and her 17-year-old pupil Rainey Paul.

Their Carpenters-styled duets of vintage rock ballads, including “Rhythm of the Rain” and “Johnny Angel,” were quite affecting, and well-received by the diners. Spencer evidently opens every show; the singers appear only on Friday and Saturday nights.


* THE DETAILS: The Encore Dinner Theatre is at 4350 Transport St., at the corner of Telephone Road, in Ventura. Shows are Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, with a Sunday matinee. Discount tickets are available for children under 12 and seniors; adult tickets range from $13.95 to $25.95. Call (805) 656-3922 for further information and reservations.