Opening night for the second show of Maine State Music Theatre’s 2017 season was rife with plaid, and not in a bad way. “Guys and Dolls,” with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, is a cacophony of color, action and fun. I smiled through most of the production, which was well-directed and choreographed by DJ Salisbury.
First, the plaid. Costume designer Ryan Moller has dressed the dozen or so gamblers in flashy plaid-patterned suits with matching ties, with colorful bands wrapped around the hats they wear. When the ensemble of crapshooters, card sharps and charming ne’er-do-wells gathered on stage, I found myself studying each costume, trying to decide which suit I liked best. The woman sitting next to me and I agreed we both wanted to take the periwinkle hat home with us. The women’s costumes were great, as well, (check out the costumes used for the number, “Take Back Your Mink” but really, the plaid. The amazing costumes added to, rather than distracted from, what was happening on stage.
“Guys and Dolls,” originally based on stories and characters by the writer Damon Runyon, first appeared on Broadway in 1950, and promptly won the Tony for Best Musical. Almost 70 years later, it still delivers in terms of songs, dance numbers and energy, even if attitudes toward courting and marriage may have changed a bit. Or have they? Would a woman still wait for 14 years for her man to marry her? Maybe. At any rate, the indomitable Charis Leos plays the big-hearted, Nathan Detroit-loving romantic entertainer Miss Adelaide with both grit and a bit of forlornness.
Detroit, played by James Beaman, is in charge of finding crap-shooting venues. His suit is rather subdued compared to the rest of his cronies, but his search to find a hidey-hole in which to gamble is color enough, with the exception of assuring Adelaide that yes, of course he wants to marry her. There’s a quiet but canny desperation in Beaman’s portrayal. He’s everywhere on stage, cajoling, comforting, assuring and comfortable as a man who has always rolled the dice regarding the law, and probably will for the rest of his life.
That brings up Sky Masterson, played by Maine native Stephen Mark Lukas. Lukas is seriously tall and matinee-idol handsome. He’s also intense. Masterson growls, rather than sings the iconic song, Luck Be a Lady. He hits the notes and then some, but his desire for Salvation Army soldier Sarah Brown is what shines through the melody and lyrics. It was a high point of the show. Actually, any time Lukas was on stage marked a high point. As Masterson, Lukas commanded his scenes with a confidence and arrogance, as befitted his character.
Kristen Hahn as the self-righteous, religion-toting Sarah Brown is lovely, and so is her voice. She plays Sarah softly, but more than a hint of mischief is revealed during the Havana scene. And although Sarah demonstrates that she can and does let down her hair, Hahn’s performance never lets her forget that she’s a lady.
The dancing in this scene is superb, as it is throughout the show. This is DJ Salisbury’s directorial and choreographic MSMT debut. Movement is well-executed considering the size of the stage, the number of characters, complications fraught by so many scene changes, and the setting up of dance numbers. MSMT has hired some brilliant dancers for the season, and they’re well worth watching. How many times does one actually get to watch a well-choreographed dance number? There are several in this production and it’s a good bet you’d like them all.
Steve Gagliastro plays Nicely-Nicely Johnson, one of Nathan Detroit’s sidekicks. He gets to belt out another iconic number in the show, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” and he nails it! It’s an exuberant performance by an experienced actor who loves what he does. After the number, Gagliastro got a well-deserved round of enthusiastic applause from the audience.
Annmarie Duggan’s lighting design complemented the moods and colors on the stage. Lighting shifted with subtle ease from the brash and bright city streets to the late night mood in a Cuban dance joint. Robert Andrew Kovach is the scenic designer. In a show like “Guys and Dolls,” with so many required set changes, it’s amazing to see how a world as big as this one is created. The cityscape and crap-shooting venues were marvels of perspective.
Oh my, this show is fun! It’s “Guys and Dolls,” so how could it not be? This is a great production. MSMT has rolled the dice and come up with another winner. The show runs until July 15. Call the box office for tickets and information, (207) 735-8769. MSMT is located in the Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus in Brunswick.