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'Guys and Dolls' Not Nicely-Nicely

Oliver_Platt_as_Nathan_Detroit_300 You know a revival of Guys and Dolls is in trouble when the best reviews go to Benny Southstreet and General Cartwright. That's the situation with the current Broadway production of the classic 1950 tuner based on the stories and characters of Damon Runyon. Steve Rosen who plays the relatively small role of Benny, one of Nathan Detroit's underworld sidekicks, and Mary Testa, a previous Tony nominee in the even smaller part of the Salvation Army bigwig who lets her hair down during "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," have earned the most consistant high praise from critics. 

The main problem is with director Des MacAnuff's concept of giving this "comic fable of Broadway" a dose of gritty Philip Marlowe realism. The lovable gamblers are now mixed with cold-blooded killers ready to bury a body for $8. It's as if The Sopranos were in a musical. It doesn't work. The casting is off as well. Craig Bierko is vacant as Sky Masterson. He looks and sounds the part, but there is nothing underneath that rugged exterior. Kate Jennings Grant plays Sister Sarah, the mission doll Sky falls for, as a spitfire from the beginning, so her Cuban transformation under the influence of Barcardi, has no impact. Oliver Platt has a certain amount of nebbish charm as Nathan and Lauren Graham's Adelaide has moments that land solidly, but just as many that don't. Her "Lament" ("A person can develop a cold") is unfocused but her reprise after Nathan has jilted her is heartbreakingly effective.

Critics may have been especially harsh on the show because the memory of the Nathan Lane-Faith Prince production is still fresh for us. (The New York Times took the usual step of putting their review for that show on the front page. For this one, the New York Post cruelly teased their review on the front page with the headline "Guys and Dulls.") 

Even though it was 17 years ago, Jerry Zaks' clear staging is still in my mind. Every joke was punched at exactly the right moment. MacAnuff clutters up too many moments with too much traffic. Maybe audiences who haven't seen that 1992 classic staging or have only been exposed to high-school productions will be OK with this 2009 model. (Photo: Carol Rosegg)

--David Sheward 

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