THIS HOLIDAY THE DOLLS AND NOT SO MANY GUYS WIN THIS FLOATING CRAP GAME
"LUCK BE A LADY” HAS NEVER BEEN SO IMPORTANT IN THIS NEW
GENDER FLUID PRODUCTION OF ‘GUYS AND DOLLS’
Review by Vince Mediaa
Saints and sinners toss the dice at San Francisco Playhouse clever production of GUYS AND DOLLS. The classic Broadway iconic song “Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat '' and “Luck Be A Lady” ring out this Holiday season at SFPH gender fluid production of GUYS AND DOLLS. The dice roll through January 13th at the Union Square stage. Directed by San Francisco Playhouse Artistic Director Bill English he says his fluid casting is a message of healing; “(this musical) is actually a brilliant satire on binary thinking/ it is a story of sex workers, gambling addicts and right winged Christian evangelists that explores the binaries of male versus female/ saint versus sinner, and criminal versus the law”. Music direction by Dave Dobrusky and choreography by Nicole Helfer, the Playhouse’s binary production reexamines the classic musical, this production brings a wealth of experience to this classic musical. An uplifting story of redemption perfect for the holiday season.
GUYS AND DOLLS first opened on Broadway in 1950 and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Set in 1940’s Manhattan stuffed with gangsters with names like Harry the Horse, Big Jule and Angie the Ox all come to gamble. The Musical tells the tale of Nathan Detroit, a guy who needs a venue for his “permanently established floating crap game.” If you are a theatre fan you have seen this “crap game” a few times, so I won’t share much about the story. This cast is sharp and along the way you are treated to some of composer Frank Loesser’s most memorable Broadway tunes, including “Adelaide’s Lament,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” and the show-stopping “Crapshooter’s Dance”. Choreographer Helfer does a classic take on the Frank Loesser opening gangster city ballet called “Runyoland” that features most of the 14 member cast.
The dance number ends with the three featured gangsters Nicely-Nicely, Benny, and Rusty played by the terrific Kay Loren, Chachi Delgado, and the swaggering Jurä Davis. The three sing “Fugue for Tinhorns” as they play the numbers and place bets outside a news stand. Gangster Nathan Detroit’s played by the full throttle Joel Roster stresses that his best venue has just failed and he needs fast money. He turns to snazzy Sky Masterson, a high roller who will bet on anything, if the stakes are high enough.
The marvelous David Toshiro Crane steals the stage as Sky and in his first number “I’ll Know” he sings with the pitch perfect Abigail Esfira Campbell who plays his date, Sarah Brown, who runs the Save A Soul Mission. Campbell and Crane on stage timing has a strong rapport, keeping the humor flowing and touching aspects of the pair’s comically mismatched love story. They sing “Havana” with the company and have elegant solos “If I Were a Bell? And “My Time of Day” their voices fill the SFPH Theatre with a polished style. Director English has softened some of the nefarious intentions you get from the rum milkshake bit, updated version now Sarah just wants to experience life.
The ever popular Melissa WolfKlain as Nathan Detroit’s 14-year fiancé, nightclub hottie, Miss Adelaide. She is the ultimate classy, sassy doll, belting out renditions of “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink,” backed by a bevy of sensational Hot Box dancers. Her timing is classic, crushing a standout performance of “Sue Me”. WolfKlain seems made for the role of Adelaide and her squeaky voiced epic sniffles, yet that side of her performance falls flat. But she earn some of the show’s best laughs, in the second act she sings “Adelaide’s Lament”.
The flawless Alison Ewing has a winning presence as the stern mission boss General Cartwright. Some other classic gamblers include the powerhouse Jessica Coker as “Big Jule” the lively Miles Meckling as the thug Harry the Horse and the keen Malia Abayon as Angie the Oz. Jill Slyter's fluid take adds to the sweetness of the fluid casting as Sarah’s grandfather, Arvide Abernathy, delivers a touching rendition of “More I Cannot Wish You.” There are plenty of colorful characters to keep the smiles constant in this production. This non binary cast is an endless source of entertainment as Nathan Detroit’s gambling associates. Local favorite Alex Hsu is in comically cranky mode as the cop Lt. Brannigan.
“Havana’ and “Crapshooter’s Dance” sequences are rousing, boosted by the rich big band sound of music director Dave Dobrusky’s ten member orchestra. The horns join the on stage Mission band with Sarah, featuring Jason Park, Justin J Smith, Derek James and Kirk Duplantis on bass drum.
James Ard’s sound design shines during the crap game number. Costume designer Kathleen Qiu and Jasmin Santiago brought a lot of color to her choices of the Hot Box dolls and the gangs eye candy jackets, complemented by York Kennedy’s lighting on Heather Kenyon’s neon comic book set. The hit number “A Bushel and Peck” still popped out with a 40’s glam featuring the high stepping female cast. I would have liked to see a male chorus member in the Hot Box numbers. I may have missed that, Laundra Tyme’s wig designs were perfect and maybe I didn’t catch any members of the fluid male cast dressed as women.
Props by Angela Knutson bring all the shower gifts for the Adelaide, and Dice, Bibles, and loads of drinks for the Havana numbers. One of the few off-notes to the show is the uneven way some cast members handle the mouthy Runyon-inspired New Yahwk sound that Dialect coach Kimberly Mohne Hill tries to accomplish with this company. Stage manager Daren A.C. Carollo moves the fourteen member cast on and off stage with ease and the turntable set is always smooth. Fight director the superb Dave Maier always keeps whatever cast he works with safe and swinging next to intimacy coach Maya Herbsman sensitive skills. The occasional “ME TOO’ references are missing from this script and under assistant director Marie-Claire Erdynast keen wrangling skills.
GUYS AND DOLLS is now 73 years old and it is truly a classic American musical. While it may no longer be appropriate to refer to women as “dolls” or endorse their decision to “Marry the Man Today” and change him later, the sheer zest of this iconic musical works well with this new take and fluid casting. Next up at SFPH is “My Home on The Moon” by Minna Lee opens January 25th. But in the meantime it's time to bring your dice and be part of Broadway's best floating crap game. Perfect for your holiday break and New Years champagne celebration.
SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE PRESENTS
Guys and Dolls A Musical Fable of Broadway
Based on a Story and Characters of Damon Runyon
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directed by Bill English, Music Direction by Dave Dobrusky,
Choreography by Nicole Helfer
Must Close January 13, 2024 SAN FRANCISCO PLAYHOUSE
450 Post Street, San Francisco
Photos by Jessica Palopoli
TICKETS $15-$125 subscriptions available for San Francisco Playhouse’s 2023-24 Season. For more information, https://www.sfplayhouse.org/sfph/2023-2024-season/guys-and-dolls/ or call the box office at 415-677-9596.
THE CAST; Melissa WolfKlain, Joel Roster, Abigail Esfira Campbell,
David Toshiro Crane, Kay Loren, Chachi Delgado, Miles Meckling,
Jessica Coker, Alison Ewing, Jill Slyter, Alex Hsu, Malia Abayon, Jurä Davis and Brigitte Losey
Guys and Dolls features assistant direction by Marie-Claire Erdynast, music direction by Dave Dobrusky, choreography by Nicole Helfer, scenic design by Heather Kenyon, costume design by Kathleen Qiu, lighting design by York Kennedy, props design by Angela Knutson, and sound design by James Ard.Maya Herbsman serves as intimacy director, Kimberly Mohne Hill is the dialect coach, and Daren A.C. Carollo is the stage manager.