'Guys and Dolls' is old-fashioned fun in a modern palette

March 24, 1994|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,Sun Theater Critic

Once upon a time, all that got shot in Times Square was craps, low lifes had high-sounding monikers like "Nicely-Nicely," and a dame could be called a doll without alerting the political correctness cops.

OK. Maybe that was never-never land, but you can have an old-fashioned good time visiting it at the Lyric Opera House, where "Guys and Dolls" is happily ensconced for the next three weeks.

Winner of the 1992 Tony Award for best revival, this snappy production, directed by Jerry Zaks, pulls off the difficult combination of being fresh at the same time that it is reverent to Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows' musical comedy based on Damon Runyon's fabled Broadway characters.

One way it does this is with costumes (by William Ivey Long), sets (by Tony Walton) and lighting (by Paul Gallo) that are as bright as Technicolor -- and as lush as they are on Broadway. A lieutenant with New York's Finest wears a Dick Tracy-yellow trench coat, the gamblers' multi-colored suits are as subtle as neon, and when New York's "oldest established permanent floating crap game" re-locates to a sewer in the second act, it's a sewer with style, not stench.

This touring production also features a number of bright performances, starting with that of Patricia Ben Peterson, whose Sgt. Sarah Brown of the Save-a-Soul Mission has a singing voice as sweet and strong as her spirit. The fact that she happens to be stronger vocally than leading man Richard Muenz, who plays high-roller Sky Masterson, upsets the balance of their lovely Loesser duets, "I'll Know" and "I've Never Been in Love Before." But Muenz manages fine on his own with his solo turn in that lively sewer number, "Luck Be a Lady."

The show's other pair of lovers are more evenly matched. As Miss Adelaide, star of the Hot Box revue and long-time fiancee of crap-game entrepreneur Nathan Detroit, Beth McVey has a "Nu Yoik" accent and comically weary manner reminiscent of Audrey Meadows on "The Honeymooners," and she underlines Adelaide's novelty "Lament" with sincerity.

She and Philip LeStrange's Nathan Detroit not only make aadorable couple, but their mutual affection is believable.

LeStrange fares so well in this major character role that it seems a shame that he's due to be replaced by TV actor Steve Landesberg during this Baltimore run.

The production's other stand-out performance is that of Kevin Ligon, who's awfully-awfully good as Nicely-Nicely.

His rendition of the 11th-hour number, "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," is rousing enough to save some souls in the audience as well as on stage.

Christopher Chadman's muscular choreography succeeds in making a pack of tough-talking gamblers look equally tough when they're dancing.

The acrobatic "The Crapshooters' Dance," with exaggerated dice-throwing woven into the movement, is the choreographic highlight of the production.

When "Guys and Dolls" debuted in 1950, it was a Valentine to Runyon's Valentine to a Broadway that never was, and it was also an example of the Broadway musical at its best. This revival honors that example.

THEATER REVIEW

What: "Guys and Dolls"

Where: Lyric Opera House, 140 W. Mount Royal Ave.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinees 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. Through April 10. (Audio-described performances 2 p.m. March 26 and 8 p.m. March 29; sign-interpreted performances 8 p.m. March 30 and 2 p.m. April 2.)

Tickets: $22.50-$50

9- Call: (410) 625-1400; TDD: (410) 625-1407

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