Guys and Dolls crowds stage with colorful characters
Dale Gutzman takes on big challenges in a tiny theater to entertain his audiences. Gutzman’s Off the Wall Theatre is now staging Guys and Dolls as a no-compromise Broadway musical despite the cramped venue.
This production is a faithful homage to Frank Loesser’s songs and Abe Burrows’ wonderful adaptation of Damon Runyon’s imaginative stories of New York life during prohibition. Runyon’s quirky stories bristle with brilliant songs and non-stop one-liners in the musical version.
The two Guys and Dolls love stories are far from traditional. Nathan Detroit (Karl Miller), host of the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York,” is never quite ready to finalize an engagement of 14 years to Miss Adaleide (Kristin Pagenkopf), headliner of the Hot Box girls. Sky Masterson (Parker Cristan) — a suave, big-time gambler who can have and discard any “doll” he wishes — takes a bet that he cannot romance Sergeant Sarah Brown (Sharon Rise), the devout, naive leader of the Save-a-Soul mission. Life is about to change for all the endearing characters in this Neverland New York.
Gutzman and company celebrate Runyonesque characters in over-the-top comic-book fashion. Supporting players lovingly portray a rogues’ gallery of gamblers and cops, burlesque dancers, a mission band and the local drunk. The cast dresses in a rainbow of primary colors with mugs to match.
Verve and enthusiasm charge the production numbers, danced nearly in the collective lap of the audience. How do you choreograph a musical number with 26 people in a space smaller than my living room? The rollicking Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat starts with standing up and sitting down, then exchanging seats, executing leaps and spins, dancing down the runway into the audience and disappearing at the back of the theater, then reappearing from the rear of the stage (thanks to a hallway next door.)
Pagenkopf, as Adaleide, sings with great comic flair, lamenting her “psychosomatic syndrome … just from waiting around for that plain little band of gold … a person can develop a cold.” She and the Hot Box girls draw in the audience with Take Back my Mink.
Karl Miller as Nathan Detroit earns our sympathy despite his faults, as he struggles to balance an edge-of-failure illegal enterprise and an impatient girlfriend expecting to reform him.
Cristan’s Sky Masterson is every bit the cool heroic figure, singing with conviction and style – particularly in Luck be a lady tonight. Sharon Rise, as Sarah Brown – I’ll Know (when my love comes along) and I’ve Never Been in Love Before — can’t match Cristan vocally, and she seemed a little cold, at first. I missed some show of passion for her mission, which could be transferred into passion for Sky.
Gutzman directed. He’s also a larger-than-life scene stealer as Big Jule, a visiting gambler from Chicago.
Would this performance work as well in a conventional theater? Maybe not, but it is where it is. The intimate room, the crowded, casual, hand-crafted feel, and the infectious, close-up enthusiasm of the amateur players make this show a delight to experience.
Seating is nearly as limited as the stage. Tickets are going fast; Dec. 18 and 19 are sold out. Guys and Dolls runs through Dec. 30. Tickets are $28.50 and $24.50, $35 on New Year’s Eve. Click here or call 414-327-3552 to order. Sunday shows begin at 4:30 p.m., all others at 7:30 p.m., except for the 8 p.m. start on New Year’s Eve.