THEATER REVIEW: Talent, not luck, makes this ‘Guys and Dolls’ sing

Guys and Dolls/ By Frank Loesser/ Mac-Haydn Theatre, Chatham

AROUND THE ROUND AT MAC-HAYDN Theatre, the illuminated signs for Mindy’s, the Majestic, the Roxy, etc. (all in appropriate fonts) are evocative shorthand for the 1940s Manhattan theater district.

When 12 guys roar down the aisle to the stage, followed by 12 snazzily dressed dolls, you know that theatrical minimalism is banished for the evening. Yea! It’s Loesser time, which is always more, more, more. (Sorry. But not very.)

The basics:

Mac-Haydn’s got voices. Sarah Talbot as Sarah Brown knows how to caress a phrase, and the higher she sings the more she unleashes her super-free, upper-register with its subtle, utterly natural vibrato. Carrie Simma as Adelaide never allows her “belt” to shout or descend into the unpleasant, voguish nasal-baby-sing. Although he has a bit of unease in his high register, Mark Edwards as Sky Masterson delivers a sweet, expressive sound. Given a little more rehearsal time, the chorus might be crisper, but the voices are there. Gabe Belyeu has—well, him later.

Mac-Haydn’s got costume designer Jimm Halliday. Among his exuberant offerings, I especially appreciate the Hot Box girls’ enormous sunshine-yellow, pseudo-tutus. They are pocked with black squares and graced with giant bows. (Those giant bows become a near-theme when they appear later toward the bottom of satin gowns.) Five witty yellow petals sprout on each girly head.

Mac-Haydn’s got choreographer Bryan Knowlton. His moves are comfortable in the period yet fresh and exciting. His dancers crowd the round-postage-stamp with vigor and precision–and with no bloodshed.

“G & D” has Gabe Belyeu and Colin Pritchard. For a while Belyeu seems a bit much; but at last he corrals his big energies and his extraordinary vocal timbre to rock the house with “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

Pritchard may be the best bad-boy Nathan Detroit ever. Everything he says and does is real. His devotion to Miss Adelaide is so real that if you had him, even you would wait 14 years.

“G & D” has orchestra, and some of it is non-electronic!

“G & D” has director John Saunders, who makes it all cook.

The book is not perfect. Never has been. But, it’s not just a sweet fantasy in which a city slicker lures a girl to Havana, gets her drunk and does Not seduce or rape her. (Who believes that these days?) I don’t think it’s even “Bushel & a Peck” or “Adelaide’s Lament” or “I’ve Never been in Love Before ”or “Luck Be a Lady,” or some kind of misplaced nostalgia. It’s Loesser magic. If you and I knew what it is, we’d be billionaire producers.

But, what is it with the overweight leading ladies? Is this some sort of political statement? The script calls them both “beautiful.” The author wasn’t talking about talent. The appearance of a seriously extended midsection in a skimpy, glowing red leotard is likely to jerk most audience members smack out of the play. And, as anyone who was sentient in the forties and fifties would have told you, no female with a waist measurement of over 23 inches would qualify for a dancing job at the Hot Box.

Odd as that part of the casting seems, nothing can quite sabotage this “Guys and Dolls.” The orchestra swings, the actors can sing, dance and act, the choreography soars, the costumes sizzle, the chorus members are skilled and hot, Loesser is magic, and the audience leaves flying high.

See it through August 17. Reserve seats at 518-392-9292.



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