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On Theater: Nicely, nicely done ‘Guys and Dolls’ at Segerstrom

Christopher Swan, as Nathan Detroit ,and the cast of the national tour of "Guys and Dolls," which is at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts through Sunday.
(Gary Emord-Netzley)

Most theatergoers have seen “Guys and Dolls,” either the stage musical that’s been around since 1950 or its 1955 movie adaptation. One exception was my companion at the touring show’s opening Tuesday at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, and she pronounced her first exposure to the show “excellent.”

The Frank Loesser score and the plot by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows hold up quite nicely-nicely, thanks to a spirited production directed by Jeffrey B. Moss and choreographed by Bob Richard. The Damon Runyon era of the 1920s and ‘30s is back with its horse players and soul savers intact.

In this latest edition, there are few alterations, save for an ultra-modern setting and a “Big Jule” who’s the shortest actor in the cast. The costumes, as required, are striking impersonations of the “zoot suit” of the 1940s, and the language is a cross between formality and street slang, with the first letter of the alphabet always pronounced “ay” rather than “uh.”

Singing voices are superb, particularly that of Kayleen Seidl, playing the “mission doll” Sarah Brown who captures the heart of the legendary gambler Sky Masterson. Seidl sheds her inhibitions (thanks to a generous portion of rum in her milkshakes) in a freewheeling adventure in Havana back when Cuba wasn’t off limits to Americans.

As Masterson, Matthew J. Taylor is smoothness personified — and his physical appearance should remind most playgoers of a fellow named Brando who performed that role in the movie version. His fervent “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” number is a highlight of the show.

The role of Nathan Detroit, proprietor of the “oldest established floating crap game in New York,” is gleefully mastered by Christopher Swan, who gives his character a carnival barker’s touch as he strives to find a venue for his venture.

His 14-year fiancee, Miss Adelaide, receives a brassy, brilliant interpretation from Lauren Weinberg, the Hot Box Club songbird yearning to land the elusive Nathan. Her lament equating sniffles and romance is neatly accomplished, as are her two club numbers, “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink.”

Todd Berkich as gambler Nicely Nicely Johnson renders one of the production’s best moments as he advises the others to “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” John Galas is a pint-size performance artist as the Chicago gangster Big Jule, and Jesse Graham takes charge of the mission folks as a stern General Cartwright.

There’s more than one Sky in this show. Skye Bronfenbrenner — who’ll be remembered by Huntington Beach Playhouse fans as a terrific Kim MacAfee in “Bye Bye Birdie” a few years ago — does triple duty as a mission gal, a Hot Box dancer and an ensemble member, and she’s also the understudy for Sarah. This young lady is on her way up.

Richard’s choreography sizzles, particularly in the Havana number, and the settings, by Randel Wright, sparkle like an old house with a fresh coat of paint. Musical director Peter Nilsen conducts a particularly energetic pit orchestra.

“Guys and Dolls” is seemingly ageless, harkening back to a cliched era epitomized by the stories of Runyon. It plays through Sunday only in this unfortunately limited one-week engagement.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

*

If You Go

What: “Guys and Dolls”

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Closing performances 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: Starts at $29

Information: (714) 556-2787 or https://www.scfta.org


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