San Luis Obispo Little Theatre’s latest production, “Guys and Dolls,” takes an old Broadway standby and makes it shine with comedy and local talent.
“Guys and Dolls” premiered on Broadway in 1950 and became a long-running hit, spawning numerous revivals. If you haven’t seen the musical performed live, you may have watched the 1955 film version starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.
The plot is twisted and involves a floating craps game, burlesque dancers, missionaries and a Chicago gangster named Big Jule (Christian Clarno, playing a “Godfather”-esque mobster dropped in from a Mel Brooks film).
Nathan Detroit (Cameron Parker), who makes his living hosting the “longest-running permanent floating craps game” in New York City, needs money so he can put down a deposit on his next venue. Out of options, Nathan bets Sky Masterson (San Luis Obispo native Mike Fiore), a well-known gambler, that Sky can’t take straight-laced Salvation Army-esque missionary Sarah Brown (Molly Wetzel) to Cuba with him.
Sky convinces Sarah to go there by promising to provide a dozen sinners for a big prayer meeting she’s planned, enough to keep her mission afloat. They fall in love through a series of events that involve Barcardi rum, an impromptu dance-off and a hilarious prayer meeting involving a very funny rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” led by gambler Nicely Nicely Johnson (Gregory Gorrindo), as he dramatically confesses his sins.
Meanwhile, Miss Adelaide (Kate Stephens, deliciously ditzy), a burlesque performer at the Hot Box, tries to persuade Nathan, her fiancé of 14 years, to marry her.
The San Luis Obispo Little Theatre production, directed by Kevin Harris with musical direction by Lacey McNamara and choreography by Zach Johnson, plays up the comedic elements of “Guys and Dolls,” emphasizing the dialogue’s wittiness and the actors’ skills as physical comedians. Parker’s Nathan emanates manic energy as he swings from apoplectic shouting to gentle cajoling in the span of a few seconds. He’s a delightful foil to Fiore’s Sky, who plays the straight man with a wry seriousness.
A scene involving Nathan and Sky acting out Adelaide and Sarah’s domestic fantasies – Nathan wearing a bowling shirt and watering flowers, and Sky wearing nothing but an apron and toting three babies – got some of the most laughs from an opening night audience.
Stephens’ Adelaide is another highlight of the show. She sparkles as a woman frustrated by her noncommittal lover, and her performances with her burlesque troupe are quite fun.
Adelaide’s free spirit contrasts nicely with Wetzel’s buttoned-up Sarah. Although Sarah mostly retains her law-and-order aura, a spunkier side shines through during “If I Were a Bell,” which Wetzel performs with intoxicated exuberance. Stephens’ and Wetzel’s voices also dazzle, especially during some of their more difficult solos.
At times, it’s almost difficult to concentrate on the action in the foreground, as the supporting cast is always doing something funny in the background that catches the eye.
Sarah’s fellow missionaries, Arvide Abernathy (Jamie Foster), General Cartwright (Sandy Schwarer) and Agatha (Amanda Thayer) toe the line between taking their missionary duties seriously and keeping the audience laughing with comedic asides. The craps-shooting gangsters also play up the funny, especially whenever they run into Lt. Brannigan (Larry Kaml) and his thick Irish accent.
The sets – designed by David Linfield, with lighting and sound by Kevin Harris – make the best use of the Little Theatre’s small space. Vintage advertisements on either side of the stage help transport the audience back to the 1950s. Keith Wetzel’s costumes amplify the vintage feel, especially the women’s hats and A-line dresses.
A true musical of the ’50s, “Guys and Dolls” has some dated elements. The women are called “dolls.” Adelaide’s doctor tells her unmarried women are perpetually unsatisfied and prone to colds, as she sings in “Adelaide’s Lament.” And Sky feeds an unsuspecting Sarah rum drinks dressed up as milkshakes, something that probably wouldn’t be acceptable on a date in 2017.
But the show’s excellent cast and well-done production make the musical a fun trip into the past that’s well worth your while.
‘Guys and Dolls’
7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; through March 12
San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, 888 Morro St., San Luis Obispo
$35 to $45
805-786-2440 or slolittletheatre.org