By JESSICA NEU
It’s the 1950s in New York City. The war is over, the lights are bright, the nights are long, and the bets are big in the classic musical Guys & Dolls.
With music by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, this beloved show continues the Pittsburgh CLO summer season at the Benedum Center from August 8-13th.
Stylistically, director Darren Lee transports us to an era of part Cab Callaway and part Tony Soprano, but with all the glitz of a modern musical stage production. Scenic designer, Tony Walton’s backdrops provided both height and depth to the stage while depicting a vibrant and electric world that makes you want to keep placing your bets all night long.
Guys & Dolls tells the story of three small-time gamblers Nicely-Nicely Johnson (John Treacy Egan), Benny Southstreet (Aaron Galligan-Stierle), and Rusty Charlie (Allan Snyder). Nicely and Benny’s employer Nathan Detroit (Matthew Saldivar), runs an illegal craps game that he desperately tries to find locations to run but is always short on funds to support his events. Detroit has been engaged to Miss Adelaide (Lesli Margherita) for 14 years with no real intention of getting married. In an effort to get a quick $1,000 to run a craps game, Detroit bets his buddy, Sky Masterson (Jeff Kready), that he cannot take Sarah Brown (Nikki Renee Daniels) out to dinner in Havana, Cuba. Detroit is convinced this is a sure-fire win for him as Brown is part of the Save a Soul Mission. Brown and her colleagues work to convert sinners into saints throughout New York City. As Masterson tries to swoon, Brown, hilarity ensues, and Detroit finds himself less than a step away from the law. Adding to the comic relief are minor characters such as Big Jule (Herschel Sparber), who lives up to his name as a no-nonsense gambler who towers over the small-time New York “Guys.”
Guys & Dolls is ‘that’ show with familiar numbers (“Luck Be A Lady,” “A Bushel And A Peck,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat“), big dance numbers (“Havana“), and classic characters.
Saldivar delivers a smooth yet slightly anxious Detroit who tries to play it cool around the Guys but approaches his relationship with Adelaide with a bit of trepidation as he wants to offer her more financial security than he currently is able to.
In addition to Saldivar, each principal actor has a moment to shine in both acting and singing. As Daniels delights audiences with “I’ll Know,” her first of several numbers, my six-year-old son leaned over and said, “she has the prettiest voice I’ve ever heard.” He was not wrong. Daniel’s angelic voice soars from the streets of New York through the Pittsburgh audience as she is accompanied by Kready’s strong vibrato (“I’ll Know,” “I’ve Never Been In Love Before“) and Margherita’s endearing personality and spunk (“Marry the Man Today“).
Some of these numbers have been reimagined and performed by so many different artists and in various capacities over the years; it was truly a delight to hear the score in its original form with a fill orchestra led by Music Director James Cunningham.
Adding to the score is Mark Esposito’s high-energy choreography. Specifically, in the ballroom sequence in “Havana,” Esposito’s choreography adds a dynamic flare to the numbers, making the show even more inviting and engaging for audience members. This show is a delight for all ages and packs some of the biggest fun and laughs that the CLO has produced this summer.
As the music numbers soar, not to be missed is the depth that each character brings to the story. These are real people who are struggling with their own identities and goals in life as they all attempt to navigate their path to happiness. Can Detroit give up gambling for good? Will Adelaide ever find true happiness? Can a missionary love a sinner and vice versa? In their own way, each character reconciles making the right choice vs. the wrong, yet often more appealing choice, sin vs. repentance, and good vs. evil. The characters deliver these relatable themes with a charm and charisma that will make you want to take a chance on something scary, unfamiliar, or unknown. After all, the dice may fall in your favor.
TICKETS AND DETAILS
Guys and Dolls continues at the Benedum Center from August 8-13th, 2023. Visit https://www.pittsburghclo.org/shows/guys-dolls
See also Sharon Eberson’s Guys and Dolls preview here.
The final shows of the CLO’s summer season is Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, August 22-27, 2023