Donna Feore’s exuberant Guys and Dolls works…quite nicely-nicely!

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon

Scott Sneddon is Senior Editor on SesayArts Magazine where he is also a critic and contributor.

How many times have you heard, “The movie was good, but the book was better”? As it happens, many of the stage productions either currently playing or opening soon in the Greater Toronto area have their genesis on the page. With summer (and family summer outings) around the corner, what better time to briefly consider the source material, then go see how it translates to the stage?

Guys and Dolls, the “musical fable of Broadway”, continues its current run at the Stratford Festival until October 29. The musical is based on Damon Runyon’s short stories “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure,” as well as characters and plot elements borrowed from other stories set in Broadway during the Prohibition era. It’s been a perennial favourite since debuting on Broadway in 1950, when it won the Tony Award for Best Musical.

Members of the company in Guys and Dolls, Stratford Festival 2017; photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

Runyon, who was a noted journalist of his time, wrote of shysters, gamblers, gangsters and hustlers with colourful “Runyonesque” names like Nicely-Nicely Johnson (played in this production by Steve Ross), Sky Masterson (Evan Buliung), Nathan Detroit (Sean Arbuckle), Big Jule (Beau Dixon) and Harry the Horse (Brad Rudy). Most remarkable about Runyon’s writing is his distinctive vernacular, known popularly as “Runyonese” which is in near-equal parts formal and slang, almost always in the present tense (for the past and future), without a contraction in sight. And it all reads…well, quite nicely-nicely, of course!

Ready to put down your Runyon and head to Stratford? In the opening sequence of Donna Feore’s adaptation, you’ll experience the literal transition from the black and white of the printed page to the dazzling colour and kinetic energy of the stage. In indelible style, Runyon’s world explodes into life . . . and the energy and interest never flag. The acting is uniformly high-calibre and serviceable, with numerous enjoyable turns. My wife and I disagree on which half of the musical enjoys the better tunes – but we agree that all the songs hold up exceptionally well in this production. Of special note for us were the skilfully (even soulfully) rendered comedic numbers “Adelaide’s Lament” by Blythe Wilson, and “Marry the Man Today” by Wilson and Alexis Gordon as missionary Sarah Brown.

But as you’ve probably heard already, the choreography is the overall standout. Eye-popping athleticism and mesmerizing movement seem to touch every corner of the stage no matter what the scene…when it shifts to Havana, Miss Adelaide’s Hot Box Club, or later, to the sewers. This production deserves all of the raves it’s getting, so don’t miss it. It’s a pretty safe bet that you’ll want to see it again.

Blythe Wilson (left) as Miss Adelaide & Alexis Gordon as Sarah Brown in Guys and Dolls, Stratford Festival 2017; photo: Cylla von Tiedemann

News You Can Use

What: Guys and Dolls, based on a story and characters of Damon Runyon; music and lyrics by Frank Loesser; book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows

  • Featuring Sean Arbuckle, Evan Buliung, Alexis Gordon, Blythe Wilson, Lisa Horner, Laurie Murdoch, Steve Ross, Eric Abel, Gabriel Antonacci, Alex Black, Devon Michael Brown, Steven Cota, Colton Curtis, Beau Dixon, Alexandra Herzog, Bonnie Jordan, John Kirkpatrick, Heather Kosik, Bethany Kovarik, Krista Leis, Jordan Mah, Lily McEvenue, Chris McFadden, Reid McTavish, Marcus Nance,Trevor Patt, Glynis Ranney, Sayer Roberts, Brad Rudy, Cynthia Smithers, Natasha Strilchuk, Mark Uhre
  • Directed and choreographed by Donna Feore

Who: Audiences of all ages

When: On stage until October 29, 2017; running time is approximately 2 hours 47 minutes including intermission

Where: Stratford Festival, Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, ON

For info and tickets:

© 2017 Scott Sneddon, Sesaya

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