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A triple crown winner!
Thursday, June 17, 2004
By THOM MOLYNEAUX

 

It is a simple fact with which no one can argue: “Guys and Dolls” is the odds-on, all-time Triple Crown cham-pion of the American musical theater. Do not even attempt to dispute the point; “Guys and Dolls” is a classic. You want proof? Visit the Paper Mill Playhouse and lay your own eyes and both your ears on the aforementioned said musical.

All right, enough already with the cartoon gangster dialogue.  In plain (but lengthy) English, Frank Loesser’s brilliant musical fable, based on colorful Broadway characters — the lovable gangsters, crooks, cops, night club singers and dancers, and Salvation Army-type missionaries that never actually existed in and around Times Square but only in Damon
Runyon’s whimsical imagination — is being given a genuinely welcome, if not strikingly original, production at The Paper
Mill.

The sense of anticipation starts with the production’s single trumpet sounding the familiar race track fanfare. The overture
plays and set designer, Tony Walton’s, black and white front curtain of a deserted fairy tale Times Square turns into a crowded Broadway that screams Technicolor! Suddenly, we’re in a world of vividly colored costumes and picturesque characters. We’re talking outfits of eye-popping purples, blinding yellows, burning oranges, succu-lent lime greens - and these are the suits the guys are wearing. The dolls are just as vividly psychedelic and twice as sexy. If there is one word to describe the Paper Mill Playhouse production, the word is Technicolor.

Since “Guys and Dolls” is now over half a century old (ouch! that hurts) the story is familiar to most. In order to raise money for a place to hold his illegal dice game, Nathan Detroit (Michael Mastro) bets Sky Masterston (Robert Cuccioli) that he can’t take the prim Sarah Brown (Kate Baldwin) from The Save-a-Soul Mission to Havana for dinner. The budding romance between Sky and Sarah and Nathan’s problems with his longtime fiancée Miss Ade-laide (Karen Ziemba) and his travails in seeking a location for holding the “oldest established floating crap game in New York” constitutes the play’s plot.

Of course, it’s not the tale but the telling that makes “Guys and Dolls” a classic. And the telling starts with the wittiest, most memorable score ever written for a Broadway musical. What other musical could match two romantic ballads like “I’ll Know (when my love comes along)” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” the brilliantly comic “psychosomatic symptoms” of “Adelaide’s Lament,” the rousing gambler’s anthem “Luck Be a Lady,” the rollicking gospel of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” the…etc…etc.

It also helps that in this production the three leading singing roles are played by as talented a trio you’re likely to see on any one stage at one time. Robert Cucciolli is, as always, solid and professional as Sky and brings a nice vul-nerability and warmth to “I’ve Never Been in Love Before”; Kate Baldwin makes a fresh and lovely Sarah Brown — a performance that’s highlighted by her charming, original and very personal rendition of “If I Were a Bell.” The set piece for any actress playing Miss Adelaide is, of course, “Adelaide’s Lament” but Karen Ziemba didn’t have to wait that long, she had us at about the second note of “A Bushel and a Peck.” She simply reached out, put us in her pocket and kept us there until curtain call when she let us out to float home.

In one of the smaller roles, Bob Dorian, as Sarah’s grandfather, gently stops the show with “More I Cannot Wish You,” which is probably my favorite Frank Loesser song. I challenge any father of a daughter to sit in the playhouse and listen to Bob Dorian sing that song, without a bit of moisture misting in his eyes.

The rest of the cast are strong singers and dancers, especially the energetic Robert Creighton as Nicely-Nicely Johnson. They are all reliably professional but when it comes to the acting scenes, most of them fall into that broad, obvious performing style that characterizes “musical comedy acting.” This “style” is consistent with Stafford Arima’s utilitarian but prosaic direction. Even if the director isn’t as colorful as the cast and characters, he does, triumphantly, bring “Guys and Dolls” across the finish line as the uncontested winner.
 


“Guys and Dolls” plays through July 18, at the Paper Mill
Playhouse, Brookside Drive in Millburn. Tickets are $30 to
$67. For tickets and information, call the box office at (973)
376-4343, or go online at www.papermill.org.


Copyright © 2004 North Jersey Media Group Inc.