Not quite as dolled up as before

Review: `Guys and Dolls' heads to the Lyric, but it's missing a little of the fun.

November 23, 2001|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

When the production of Guys and Dolls starring Maurice Hines opened at Washington's Arena Stage two years ago, it was far too much good slick fun to disappear at the end of its scheduled run. So, the news that it was going to tour was especially welcome, and now that tour has brought it to the Lyric Opera House.

Although the show is still fun and the leads are still strong, touring has necessitated some changes, many of which are not improvements.

But first, the good stuff. As craps-game entrepreneur Nathan Detroit in this Damon Runyon-inspired 1950 musical (score by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows), Hines is an affable, loose-limbed delight. Although the performer swore off tap dancing a few years ago, he brings so much joy and finesse to his other dancing, you almost don't miss it.

Hines would be a show-stealer if it weren't for Alexandra Foucard's crackerjack portrayal of Nathan's perpetual fiancee, Miss Adelaide. Foucard's Adelaide exerts such a powerful hold on Hines that, even after being berated in the duet "Sue Me," he trails after her like a puppy dog on a leash.

It's easy to see why. Not only does Foucard have the requisite long-legged glamour to play the star showgirl at the musical's Hot Box nightclub, but she's also a first-rate comedian. Her nasal Noo-Yawk accent is a hoot in itself; add to it the psychosomatic sniffles and sneezes Miss Adelaide has contracted from a 14-year engagement with no marriage in sight (as she explains in song in "Adelaide's Lament"), and Foucard is a Miss Adelaide made in Runyon heaven.

The show's other romantic couple, high-stakes gambler Sky Masterson and his Save-a-Soul missionary sweetie Sarah Brown are played by real-life husband and wife Brian and Diane Sutherland. Diane -- who, under her maiden name, Fratantoni, starred in She Loves Me at Center Stage in 1985 and subsequently on Broadway -- has a soaring soprano and melts adorably when confronted with Sky.

Physically, Brian Sutherland lacks the suave manner and matinee-idol looks associated with Sky, but his rich singing voice compensates, and it's a pleasure to hear his duets -- "I'll Know" and "I've Never Been in Love Before" -- with his wife.

All four leads, along with most of the able supporting cast, are holdovers from Arena, as are Paul Tazewell's colorful, whimsical costumes. (Miss Adelaide's longer-than-full-length mink coat, which pulls apart into individual stoles in "Take Back Your Mink," is the kind of costume audiences go away humming.)

However, a new set designer, Norbert Kalb, has come on board to transform the show from Arena's in-the-round configuration to proscenium staging, with unsatisfactory results. Illuminated signs remain a prominent feature of the design, but a concept that was sufficient in-the-round looks skimpy in a proscenium. And when Sky takes Sarah to Havana, there's even less scenery -- mainly projections of palm trees.

That's not all that's a letdown. Although the production has the same director, Charles Randolph-Wright, and choreographer, Ken Roberson, there's far less urgency and immediacy in this incarnation. It's not just that watching "The Crapshooters' Dance" felt like gathering around a real craps game when it was in-the-round, it's that the muscularity is missing. These gamblers display more grace than gusto.

Though such disappointments may not be major shortcomings, they're also not something to sneeze at (as Miss Adelaide would be the first to admit). Two years ago, Guys and Dolls looked positively buoyant; this time around, some of the air has been let out.

Guys and Dolls

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

When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. Sunday; matinees at 2 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday

Tickets: $26-$45

Call: 410-481-7328

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