As noted in our preview last week ("Out with a bang"), there's a Colorado connection to Guys and Dolls: It's based on short stories by writer and journalist Damon Runyon, who grew up in Pueblo. When several of Runyon's short stories were woven into a Broadway musical, it came out pretty good, at least as measured by its five Tony Awards in 1951.
What the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center is now staging is nothing less than a full-throttle remount, a way to fully celebrate Runyon's work in the region he called home.
For those unfamiliar with the story, it's a Manhattan-based tale of an illegal gambling operation that Nathan Detroit (Cory Moosman) is running despite the best efforts of the NYPD. Detroit needs money to keep the craps games going, and he bets a notorious gambler, Sky Masterson (Nathan Halvorson), that Masterson can't persuade Sarah (Jennifer DeDominici) to go to dinner with him in Havana. Detroit thinks his bet is a guaranteed winner; Masterson thinks his charm will work on Sarah despite her hostility to all forms of gambling.
Guys and Dolls is not a profound, life-changing show. There's no big message, and no big surprise at the end. It's a 65-year-old script, so some of the humor tends to be corny rather than witty, and the characters are from central casting. Yet none of these shortcomings diminish the FAC's production, especially when it comes to the music.
"Luck Be a Lady" was a hit for Frank Sinatra, who also starred in the 1955 film version of the play. Halvorson's version is first rate. His duet with Dominici closes the first act with an unforgettable rendition of "I've Never Been in Love Before." DeDominici's training in opera serves her well; she delivers every note with a powerful emotional clarity. The chemistry between the two is palpable.
Director Scott RC Levy has packed the cast with highly qualified singers, actors and dancers. As Adelaide, Amy Sue Hardy is marvelous in "Take Back Your Mink," backed up by the Hot Box Girls, any one of whom could probably carry a show on her own. Kevin Pierce, as the Runyonesquely named Nicely-Nicely Johnson, rocks the house with "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat." And Janson Fangio, usually behind the scenes as the FAC costume designer, plays Big Jule to the hilt, stealing scenes at every turn.
Christopher Sheley's scenic design is striking; he uses neon signage to evoke Manhattan streets, a floor-to-ceiling wall of tinsel for the Hot Box nightclub, and a creative tropical background for Havana. Jay Hahn's orchestra never skips a beat, giving the onstage talent a soundtrack that brings the music to life without overpowering the voices.
This is pure musical-theater entertainment, perfect for those seeking a serious helping of unapologetic nostalgia. Runyon's story has come home, and the FAC has made us proud to call him one of our own.