Theatre Review: The Gamble Delivers with Guys & Dolls

Theatre Review: The Gamble Delivers with Guys & Dolls
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Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins

Tyler Collins is a thespian and performer who has worked with theatre, film, and TV across Ontario. He comes from Campbellton, NB, and has lived in North Oakville over 20 years. He is a graduate of Journalism from Sheridan College. Twitter: @MrTyCollins

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Musical lovers rejoice: whether you’ve seen Guys & Dolls a hundred times or never before, you’ve never seen a production as slick and satisfying as the one currently playing at the Stratford Festival of Canada this summer.

Frank Loesser’s classic theatrical fable of Broadway gamblers, nightclub singers, and preaching musicians has been praised as “the perfect piece of musical theatre.” Director/Choreographer Donna Feore’s production plays to the script’s strengths, and she encourages the entire cast to act with overflowing sincerity and excitement.

This strategy has worked with her previous hits on the Stratford main stage like 2013’s Fiddler on the Roof and 2015’s perfect The Sound of Music. Here, the creative team innovates by infusing as much colour and enthusiasm to the cast, band and set to an otherwise untouched story.

Feore is not re-inventing the wheel here, and she smartly knows it. By casting top-notch actors, their modern sensibilities and dignity give dramatic heft to the nearly 60-year-old musical. But it doesn’t feel stale or tired at all. In fact, the thunderous music and dance leap off the thrust stage at every chance possible.

The play’s story centers on a bet taken by a rich and suave gambler in 1950s New York City. To win, Skye Masterson (Evan Builung) must convince Times Square preacher Sarah Brown (Alexis Gordon) to go on a dinner date with him. If he loses, he funds a floating NYC crap game run by the sharp as nails Nathan Detroit (Sean Arbuckle), and various romances and wagers quickly get out of hand.

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

The entire cast is made of top notch singers, dancers, actors, comedians, and dramatists. Buliung’s Skye and Gordon’s Sarah are immediately captivating to watch. You’ve never seen two actors with such giddy chemistry and freedom to play.

The same goes for couple Arbuckle as Nathan and his 14-year-fianceé Miss Adelaide (Blythe Wilson). While they’re sweet funny together, Wilson is a proud, heartbreaking woman when she gets her two solo numbers.

Other standout performers include Beau Dixon’s hilarious Big Jule, Mark Uhre’s sharp Benny, and Laurie Murdoch’s tender Abernathy. And yes, Steve Ross beings it to town as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, when it’s time for the rousing gospel “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

In this show, however, the show-stopper is somewhere different than most productions. Here, the biggest number of the night is “The Crapshooter’s Dance”, a six-minute blockbuster when the gamblers are high playing craps and rolling dice in the sewers.

Donna Feore, the expert choreographer, uses every trick in the book to dazzle the audience here. She uses lights, moving sewer pipes, backflips, spins, and comedic acts to make the most astounding dance number I’ve ever seen on stage. At my first performance, the audience gave it a well-earned mid-show standing ovation.

Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann.

Some mild blemishes include a few missed lines and long set changes, and the Festival Theatre’s thrust stage sometimes give a feeling of bleak conversations or emptiness on the stage. But these are small notes on a thrilling musical experience.

Each season seems to be a new challenge for Artistic Director Antoni Cimolino and Mrs. Feore to outdo themselves from last summer, and Guys & Dolls delivers. They both have a gift for taking well-known musicals and making them look and feel special all over again.

It was definitely a risk to invest a high budget into such a known and loved play, especially after Stratford’s last one in 2004 and Shaw’s flopped production in 2013. Cimolino and Feore’s roll of the dice paid off handsomely.

But the best news is the real winner isn’t the house – it’s the audience. If you’re looking for the mesmerizing, feel-good theatrical event of the summer, Guys & Dolls is your best bet.

Luck’s a fine lady for everyone who buys a ticket before the summer’s up.

Guys and Dolls
3 1/2 out of 4 Stars

Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser. Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.
Ages 6 and Up. 2 hours, 50 minutes. Musical Comedy.
Directed and Choreographed by Donna Feore.
Starring Evan Buliung, Alexis Gordon, Sean Arbuckle, Blythe Wilson, Steve Ross, Laurie Murdoch, Lisa Horner and Beau Dixon.

Now playing in repertoire at the Stratford Festival Theatre, 55 Queen Street, Stratford, ON. Runs until Sunday, October 29th, 2017.
Tickets range from $25-189, available by clicking this link here, or by calling 1-800-567-1600.

As an extra note – take extra time so you won’t be late for the top of the show. There’s a hysterical opening schtick before the overture, and the opening song “Runyonland” has an unforgettable surprise at the top of the show. It’s a sin if you miss either of these.


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