A welcome visit to a classic musical comedy.
By Joel Benjamin
Okay, I freely admit that I’m old-fashioned when it comes to musical theater. Lin-Manuel Miranda is fabulous, of course, but I love Irving Berlin, Rodgers & Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim and, of course, Frank Loesser. This master melodist’s songs ranged from the sing-a-long “Once In Love With Amy” to the operatic “My Heart is So Full of You” to the dry wit of “How to Succeed.” His Guys and Dolls is chock full of American Songbook classics that reveal his easygoing genius for melody, character and period.
So it was a pleasure to be in the audience at 54 Sings Guys and Dolls on September 6th hearing it performed by a perfect cast backed up by a great band led by John Fischer. The indefatigable T. Oliver Reid, 54 Below’s programmer—and a fine singer in his own right—was the host, shepherding a cast that presented every song in the beloved score, breezily performed by these expert musical artists, including Tony Award winner Cady Huffman (Miss Adelaide) and other Broadway performers like Kelli Barrett (Sister Sarah), Joey Sorge (Sky), Kelli Rabke (yet another Adelaide!), Adrienne Warren (another Sarah) and Daniel Jenkins (Nathan).
For those who know the show, hearing the fanfare that begins the marvelous “Fugue for Tinhorns”—at once a classical canon and an earthy gamblers’ anthem—gets their hearts pumping with expectation. RB Embleton, Aaron Kaburick and Ryan Andes as the three horse race aficionados were wonderfully Runyonesque.
John Jellison as Arvide, Sarah Brown’s sweet grandfather was the elder statesman of the cast. He is one of the few actors to keep “More I Cannot Wish You,” his folksy blessing to Sarah, from becoming saccharine.
As mentioned above, several roles were doubled up. Adrienne Warren’s Sarah had a lovely soprano. Her love songs with Joey Sorge (an absolutely exemplary Sky), “I’ll Know” and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” were sweet and romantic. Kelli Barrett’s Sarah was more robust. Her “If I Were a Bell” was a nice balancing act between intoxication and wide-eyed wonder. Cady Huffman’s “Adelaide’s Lament” was rich in detail while Kelli Rabke’s “Take Back Your Mink” ( Adelaide) was sassy and more than a bit naughty. Tari Kelly’s “Bushel and a Peck” caught Adelaide’s musical comedy flair, backed up by videos of cartoon farm scenes. Ms. Kelly and Ms. Barrett’s take on the very fifties “Marry the Man Today,” their plot to mold their imperfect beaux, was winkingly fresh.
Mr. Sorge caught the streetwise suavity and sensitivity of Sky in “Luck Be a Lady” and the very New York “My Time of Day.”
Daniel Jenkins’s Nathan Detroit was particularly full-bodied and ethnically perfect in his duet with Ms. Huffman, “Sue Me.”
Of course, “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” is the show’s most famous song and RB Embleton as Nicely-Nicely, even without benefit of the usual chorus backup, was animated and in good voice.
Katie Lee Hill completed the 54 Below cast of big-voiced denizens of this delightful world created by Abe Burrow, Jo Swerling and Loesser from the now quaintly dated stories of Damon Runyon. (How New York has changed! If they wrote it now, they’d all be placing bets on their iPhones!)
Jerry DeVore on bass and Dan Gross on drums were the terrific, energetic band members who seemed to be having a great time under Mr. Fischer’s direction.
54 Sings Guys and Dolls – September 6, 2015
54 Below 254 West 54th Street, between Broadway & Eighth Avenue New York, NY
Reservations and information: 646-476-3551 or www.54below.com