With topliner Maurice Hines turning the typically slouchy Nathan Detroit into a svelte hoofer, and helmer Charles Randolph-Wright enlivening the familiar repertory material with unusually fresh and distinctive staging, the much-admired Arena Stage revival of “Guys and Dolls” has made a smooth transition into proscenium road product. Combining stellar warbling with sufficient variance from the traditional, this looks like a boffo road entry on a rough map. Broadway moguls might consider rolling this one in.
This production initially attracted much attention for its multiracial cast, although that’s hardly new these days. But the fact remains that this “Guys and Dolls” still is one of the few road revivals where so-called diversity goes beyond a token star and a couple of hoofers in the chorus.
A big show — Norbert Kalb’s sparkling sets eschew realism but production values still go well beyond today’s typical road fare — is performed by a roughly equal mix of black and white folks. It’s more authentic than the sanitized Gotham presented 50 years ago and allows for a lively panoply of musical and choreographic styles.
The show does not get hung up on 1930s realism, preferring a looser, more stylized approach that’s recognizably period but not trapped in a single era. Among the many useful and highly entertaining directorial innovations here are a sparkling opening dance-break featuring Hines; a cinematic and deftly staged trip to Havana that goes far beyond the typical Cuban shtick; zesty and amusing Hotbox numbers; and a dazzling dance sequence involving the subterranean crap-game. There’s also a lot of tiny touches that evince attention to detail and storytelling.
With the beefy Brian Sutherland and the diminutive Diane Sutherland holding down the legit core as Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown (they are married in real life), vocals are positively operatic in their juiciness. Supporting singers like Clent Bowers’ Nicely Nicely are a notch below, but still strong enough. There was some general lyrical indistinction on the opening night in Milwaukee (in fairness, the Marcus Center has muddy acoustics), but otherwise the singing here is first-rate.
A big question for Broadway, of course, would be the need to top Faith Prince, widely regarded as the definitive Miss Adelaide. The savvy Alexandra Foucard wisely goes in a different direction with the eternal fiancee, playing down the self-pity in favor of a powerful, sexually charged character who gets her man by eventually bowling over his objections with sheer force of will. She’s a splendid match for a zesty, energetic revival with far more life and legs than most people will expect.