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Guys and Dolls at Paper Mill: No Long Shot Here

Karen Ziemba in Guys and Dolls.

Gerry Goodstein

Paper Mill Playhouse

What could be a more appropriate show to catch on the day of the Belmont Stakes than Guys and Dolls, a show that starts with the words "I got the horse right here"? The only answer I can come up with is catching this grand "Musical Fable of Broadway" with one of musical theaterís finest fillies Ė Karen Ziemba Ė as Miss Adelaide, the long suffering doll of guy, Nathan Detroit, a man who has just a few hours to find a location for "the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York."

Iím using a great deal of shorthand about Guys and Dolls because I assume that most readers will have caught this show at least once in their lives. (After all, Forbidden Broadway once parodied the early 1990s revival by rewriting "Iíve Never Been in Love Before" as "I Know Iíve Heard This Song Before".)

You may even have seen Tony Waltonís settings from that revival which the designer has lovingly recreated for this Paper Mill Playhouse production Ė colorful caricatured backdrops of New York streets where just before dawn puddles seem to glow yellow under street lamps. Costume coordinator Randall Klein has followed William Ivey Longís lead from the Broadway revival as well, outfitting the musicalís colorful array of characters with even more colorful, almost Dick Tracy (Lt. Brannigan actually does wear a bright yellow trench coat and fedora) or "Batman" inspired costumes (Nathanís pinstripes look as if they might fit Cesar Romeroís Joker).

But I digress from Ziemba and her intelligent and heartfelt portrayal of Miss Adelaide, the lead showgirl at the "Hot Box" club, a woman engaged for 14 years to Nathan, and suffering a chronic psychosomatic head cold from his stalling. When Ziemba first appears, one can tell that there is something different about this Adelaide; she seems more confident and the squeaky voice that actresses usually employ for this character (a tribute to the originalís Vivian Blaine) less than pronounced.

Wait until she gets angry with Nathan, or better yet, starts dancing with the other girls in revue numbers from the Hot Box. Thereís real fire burning under this seemingly sweet and ditzy doll. Sheís also a grand dancer (almost too much so); when Ziemba manages to soft pedal her innate gifts during "Bushel and a Peck", but she canít resist the strutting rhythms of "Take Back Your Mink", watch as her hip bumps seem to snap so that Waltonís scenery seems to quiver in reverberation. As she doffs each of the elegant costume pieces, she seems to snap them off with disdain.

These, though, are just technical qualities. What is most entrancing about Adelaide here is the heartbreak that one feels for her when the romance with Nathan seems as if itís gone sour forever. One has come to care about this woman such humanity that it is impossible to not empathize with the hurt just below her anger during "Sue Me."

Of course, she doesnít carry this show alone. Director Stafford Arima who has given Guys and Dolls a surprisingly thoughtful staging against the more colorful and cartoonish world of Walton and Klein. Michael Mastro (recently Brother Man in the Judd-Beatty Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) evokes comedians Art Carney and Frank Gorshin in his portrayal of Nathan. Thereís a comic broadness to this Detroit that is necessary, but itís tempered with soft desperation that makes it seem human, and understandable.

As for the other couple of this Guys and Dolls, one finds the always charismatic Robert Cuccioli in the role of Sky Masterson. Cuccioliís impeccable singing is heard in force here and he matches it with an appropriate arrogance that he blends with just the right amount of earnestness. This makes him the perfect catch for Kate Baldwinís Sister Sarah, the Salvation Army worker, who becomes his unlikely soul mate. During the course of Guys and Dolls, audiences will find that Baldwinís glorious soprano and holier-than-thou demeanor can crumble to delightful comic effect, only to rise again and then be softened as she falls into the musicalís happy ending with marriages for both couples.

Musicals of Broadwayís Golden Era donít get much better than Guys and Dolls. Itís a delight to find this one so well-outfitted visually and in its casting, which extends to supporting players such as Robert Creightonís Jimmy Cagney-esque Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Steven Bogardís toughly dimwitted Lt. Brannigan. Of course, there is that filly that runs away with the show, Karen Ziemba, always a sure bet in this criticís book.


Guys and Dolls continues through Jul 18 at the Paper Mill Playhouse in Milburn, NJ. Evening performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 7:30pm and matinees are Thursday and Sunday at 2pm and Saturday at 2:30pm. Tickets can be purchased by calling 973-379-3636. Further information is available online at

-- Andy Propst

article ©AmericanTheaterWeb published with authority of the Paper Mill Playhouse