It’s hard to believe that “Guys and Dolls” premiered on Broadway in 1950. This current revival of the funny upbeat musical stays with a theme of couples in love trying to work through complex circumstances. This enduring, charming musical kept the audience mouthing words to and applauding familiar songs performed by a bonified experienced Broadway cast. The production opens the fourth season of the Kennedy Center’s “Broadway Center Stage” bringing full productions of Broadway hits to Washington, D.C. This production is in town until Oct. 16.
“A new generation is ready to fall in love with Nathan, Sky, the long-suffering “well-known fiancée” Adelaide and the missionary Sarah Brown,” said “Guys and Dolls” director Marc Bruni in the program guide. “Unlike their female protagonist counterparts in other shows of the same period, they end up getting what they want very much on their own terms.”
James Monroe Iglehart plays Nathan Detroit and received a Tony Award for lead actor in “Aladdin.” Nathan is a guy who runs floating crap games and avoids marriage to Miss Adelaide, his fiancée of 14 years. She is played by Jessie Mueller, Tony winner for lead actress in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.” In their relationship, Nathan is unreliable, something native Washingtonians call “triflin’.’” The always-dedicated Adelaide figures out ways to cope with her disappointments in situations that are very funny.
Rounding out the lead roles are Steven Pasquale as out-of-town-based gambler Sky Masterson. Most recently he starred opposite Kerry Washington in Kenny Leon’s acclaimed production of “American Son.” Playing Sarah Brown, a missionary worker is Phillipa Soo. She was nominated for a Tony Award and won a Grammy for originating the role of Eliza Schuyler Hamilton in “Hamilton.” Sky and Sarah play a delightful “cat and mouse” game that goes through a range of emotions. The couple is married in real life.
Avoiding the police and finding the current floating crap game is one storyline in “Guys and Dolls.” The other is can love be found and survive with so many layered twists and turns. It all takes place in 1950s New York. To set the scene, there were many creative uses of colors and patterns in the suits and shirts worn by male cast members that I wanted to see a runway fashion show. Kudos to costume designer Mara Blumenfeld.
The look of the stage must be celebrated. Scenic and projection designer Paul Tate dePoo III gave us something that must be experienced. When the curtain opened before any actor stepped on stage, the orchestra was seated on two slanted bandstands. There were 3D-like backdrop scenes of New York from the past. For me, it is momentarily dizzying. I’d love to see how it all came together.
With such amazing costumes and scenic design, “Guys and Dolls” is still a winner from the first time I saw one of its Broadway revivals years ago. This production incorporates what has come to be known as “diverse casting.” That translates to this current cast would not have been considered for roles in the original or another previous version of this 72-year-old production. What is on stage at the Kennedy Center is sparkling acting and stupendous, acrobatic dance numbers.
Actor, comedienne, and “Saturday Night Live” alumnus Rachel Dratch was a big surprise as Big Jule, another out-of-town craps player. Talk about diverse casting! Coming off a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut in “POTUS,” Dratch continues to show she does well with whatever she sets out to do. Kevin Chamberlin as Nicely-Nicely Johnson stole my heart. His character would be considered chief of staff or executive assistant to Nathan Detroit. He was always available and willing to cover for his boss. Think about today’s politics. Chamberlin has been Tony-nomination for roles in “Dirty Blonde,” “Seussical,” and “The Addams Family.”