When Frank Loesser realized he was supposed to write 16 songs and four orchestral interludes for Guys and Dolls, he hinted to director George S. Kaufman that hed like to cut a corner by reprising the best tunes. Sure, Kaufman replied if Loesser would let playwright Abe Burrows reprise the best jokes. The composer took the hint and polished the score until there wasnt one mediocre number, creating what some folks consider the greatest of all Broadway musicals.
That kind of craftsmanship ensured that the show still plays well today, 61 years after it won five Tonys. Damon Runyons garrulous guys and delectable dolls can no longer be seen along Broadway, and his stories have receded into the mists of history. But this show made him immortal, and CPCC Summer Theatre has given it a vivacious production.
CPCC uses mostly college students, who give the characters vitality in place of street-won wisdom. Salvation Army recruiter Sarah Brown (Haley Henderson) has the naïve conviction of a woman who sets out to save other souls before fully looking into her own. Gambler Sky Masterson (Ross Neal) can afford to be cavalier about lifes hard knocks, because hes felt few of them so far. Their romance catches them by surprise, because neither is jaded or cynical yet.
You can buy into them more easily than crap game sponsor Nathan Detroit (Michael Moore) and Hot Box dancer Adelaide (Charity Ruth Haskins), because that pair has to have been engaged for 14 years. Yet even there, youth is on their side a bit: A woman of 30 bemoaning her long-unmarried state is funnier and less pathetic than a woman of 45.
The show makes its strongest impression with bodies in full voice and full-out motion: The male chorus sings especially well, and choreographer Eddie Mabry has found dancers who really could be showgirls and given them the right snazzy steps. (Take Back Your Mink becomes a highlight.)
Director Tom Hollis also benefits from polished supporting performances: an urbane Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Beau Stroupe), an ebullient Benny Southstreet (Mitchell Dudas), an Arvide (Robert Taylor) who exudes warmth toward granddaughter Sarah.
Yet the show needs fine-tuning in ways to make it faster and slower: Certain dialogue exchanges should be snappier, and music director Drina Keen drives song tempos with even, consistent speeds on the rapid side. (The conductor on the original cast album slows ballads down near their endings, to greater emotional effect.)
The young singers have resonant and attractive voices but dont always project with clear diction, and the acoustics of Halton Theater are unhelpful to them. Haskins is a delightfully chirpy Adelaide, but when her voice rises in outrage, she becomes all but incomprehensible for a moment.
Gary Sivaks lighting is sometimes complimentary to the stars, sometimes cruel. (White spotlights for solos, used here in show after show, arrive with startling abruptness and wander before settling.) But Jamey Varnadores bright, multi-hued costumes couldnt be improved; they almost made me wish I still lived in an era when a guy looked snazzy rather than silly in a red-and-white checkered suit.