“Guys and Dolls,” a ground-breaking, vividly original musical, richly deserves its classic status, but the current Broadway/L.A. touring version at the Wilshire Theater doesn’t do it justice. Loud and labored, marred by miscasting, the production rarely evokes Damon Runyon’s Manhattan world of gamblers and women who seek to reform them.
Based on a short story by Runyon, “The Idyll of Sarah Brown,” Frank Loesser’s 1951 Tony winner was originally intended as a dramatic vehicle until co-writer Abe Burrows found a way to capitalize on the plot’s inherent humor. That sense of lightness is initially maintained when Nathan Detroit (Maurice Hines) takes the stage, spinning smoothly and establishing himself as a gambler committed to organizing crap games. His fiancee of 14 years, Miss Adelaide (Alexandra Foucard), wants him to quit gambling, lead her down the aisle and cure a psychosomatic cold provoked by his aversion to marriage. Sky Masterson (Brian Sutherland) is a slicker, more successful operator who would “bet on a cockroach.”
Detroit bets Masterson he can’t seduce Salvation Army girl Sarah Brown (Diane Sutherland), and Masterson turns the prim do-gooder into a hot-blooded woman. But her influence is equally powerful, and Masterson winds up a firm supporter of Brown’s Save-Your-Soul Mission.
Diane Sutherland’s Sarah is the show’s major stumbling block. Although mildly believable as a reformer, she lacks the charm and sexual warmth of a woman converted to carnality. Oddly enough, Brian Sutherland is her real-life husband, but there’s little stage chemistry between them. Their singing styles war against the funky, lowlife flavor of the piece, at times operatically suggesting an updated Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy.
Foucard is better as the marriage-minded Adelaide. Her performance tends to be one note, but she captures the humor of “Adelaide’s Lament” and the gutsiness of “Take Back Your Mink.” She seems thoroughly at home in the world of sleazy nightclubs and New York streets, and so does Hines as Detroit. Hines never pushes for comedic effect, and his underplaying allows us to know him without feeling pressured to react.
Under Charles Randolph-Wright’s direction, dialogue bridges between numbers are stilted and overlong, and the stylized speech seems quaint and dated. The gamblers have no grit or toughness, and transitions — particularly Sarah’s positive reactions to Masterson, then her pulling back — feel abrupt and awkward. Norbert Kolb’s scenic design fails to catch the character of New York.
Frank Loesser’s score periodically races to the rescue, aided by Ken Roberson’s pulsating choreography. Diane Sutherland’s duet with Foucard, “Marry the Man Today,” is a standout; “Luck Be a Lady” reminds us of the song’s brilliance; and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” performed by Clent Bowers, creates rousing excitement.