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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Theatre review: Guys and Dolls may be creaky, but it sounds divine

This throwback to a different era is sometimes a little murky through a modern lens

The musical Guys and Dolls may be a little creaky, but you would be too at age 68.

If you can get past this throwback to a different era though, there is some mighty fine music being made on stage the Waterfront Theatre on Granville Island.

Set in a mythical New York City during the Depression, Guys and Dolls is the story of gambler Nathan Detroit who is trying to find the cash to finance his moving craps game, all while avoiding the police who are breathing down his neck. Meanwhile, his longtime girlfriend and lounge performer Adelaide is upset that they have been engaged for fourteen years with no wedding ring in sight.

Turning to fellow gambler Sky Masterson to bankroll his game, the two men make a bet which sends Masterson to Havana and back again, in pursuit of the straight-laced missionary, Sarah Brown.

In Guys and Dolls, pursuing “dolls” is as much a game as the quest by for the next craps game. It also reinforces two aging female archetypes, the chaste Sarah and the perception of Adelaide as a floozy given her occupation. Through a modern lens, it is difficult to ignore these sexist underpinnings.

Yes, it may be from a different era, but like others from the golden age of musical theatre, it is sometimes difficult to watch, and were it not for some terrific singing in this production, these and other stereotypes are simply boring (and not a little offensive). Impossible to take seriously, what is missing in this production are more winks to say “yes, we know this is all just a great big bucket of aged fromage”.

To her credit, director Jenn Suratos has attempted to temper some of the sexism, not an easy task in this musical first seen on Broadway in 1950. She does this by re-casting a few roles as female, and a sly sexual reclamation with a little burlesque (more on that later).

Two of the larger roles that find a gender bend in this production are great choices. Along with a couple of smaller gender reversals among the gamblers, both police officer Brannigan and Joey Biltmore are now female. These are two of the most machismo-fueled characters in the musical, and the performances from Johanna Goosen and Caitlin Hill are as solid as they are sometimes funny.

On the burlesque front, Sari Rosofsky finds herself multiple times on a pole stage right, replacing the finial to indicate place, whether a streetlamp for the streets of New York, or a palm tree to represent Havana. Not only does Rosofsky get to show her ample pole skills (which received some spontaneous applause opening night), it also becomes another much needed wink to remind us of this show’s outdated viewpoint. I only wish there were more of these to carry us through the shows 2 1/2 hour run time, including intermission.

While Sarah and Sky may be viewed as Guys and Dolls’ star characters, it is actually in the relationship between Nathan and Adelaide where Suratos gets the most from her actors. That isn’t to say Ranae Miller and Scott McGowan as Sarah and Sky don’t do nice work (they do), it is that Mandy Rushton and Charlie Deagnon nail the relationship between the long-time couple.

Deagnon is particularly watchable, grounded in a goofy everyman performance. And Rushton has great fun with the ditzy Adelaide and one of the finest singing voices of the night.

Speaking of singing, it is here where this cast excels. Musical director Marquis Byrd has obviously spent time to achieve some stunning vocal work, especially in the harmonies. This community (amateur) and pre-professional cast sounds so good at times it is enough to create goosebumps, and it had nothing to do with the cranked-up air conditioning on opening night.

Finding their surest footing in the ensemble numbers, the showstoppers “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” definitely deliver the goods, with the latter nicely (pun intended) led by Argel Monte De Ramos.

Argel Monte De Ramos leads the showstopper "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" in the Fighting Chance Productions presentation of Guys and Dolls. Photo by Jenn Suratos.
Argel Monte De Ramos leads the showstopper “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in the Fighting Chance Productions presentation of Guys and Dolls. Photo by Jenn Suratos.

Other individual performances that stand out among this capable cast include Stephen Street’s heartfelt “More I Cannot Wish You”, and Amanda Russell’s deadpan and disinterested delivery as one of the Hotbox Girls, complete with cigarette hanging from her mouth.

Set designer Chris Hall does a lot with very little, and an obviously smaller budget, to take us to the various locales. Amara Anderson does their best to clothe this large cast with period appropriate costumes.

This is Fighting Chance Productions’ final show for the season. It is also marks the final show before the company goes on hiatus next year.

Doing a quick count, I figure I have been in the audience for 32 of the 52+ shows Fighting Chance has produced over the past decade. There is little doubt the decision not to produce a season next year will leave a hole in the local theatre landscape for myself and Vancouver audiences.

I look forward to what they have up their sleeve for the 2019-2020 season.

Guys and Dolls with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Based on short stories by Damon Runyon. Directed by Jenn Suratos. Musical direction by Marquis Byrd and choreography by Rachel Carlson & Amanda Lau. A Fighting Chance Productions presentation on stage at the Waterfront Theatre (1412 Cartwright St, Vancouver) until August 25. Visit for tickets and information.

Editor’s note (9 August): this review was revised to reflect the correct spelling of one of the cast members.

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