The straw-hat circuit may have all but disappeared, but there are a few scattered enclaves of this theatrical Americana remaining that feature Broadway, film and TV names dusting off a classic musical or a tourist-friendly comedy (or sneaking in the occasional oddball title) for a short summer stint. The Cape Playhouse has provided this theatrical service on the Massachusetts shore for the past 80 years and in its heyday featured summer escapes for stars identifiable by their first names, such as Bette, Lana, Ginger, Tallulah and Gertrude.
Though last names may now be necessary, the theater still offers diverting, summer-light productions featuring casts of Rialto pros, with the fare ranging from the offbeat, such as Leslie Uggams in “The Rink,” to the more aud-friendly, like soap star Linda Dano in “Sylvia” and the current “Guys and Dolls.”
Though this staging won’t entice producers looking for the next big revival, a trip to the Cape provides a pleasant time out, plus an intriguing performance from leading man Jarrod Emick that is at once out of place and thoroughly mesmerizing.
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As Sky Masterson, Emick eschews the Damon Runyon rhythms for his own particular parlance, landing somewhere in the vicinity of Elvis, Clint Eastwood and perhaps some leftover, low-key Johnny Cash from his recent portrayal in “Ring of Fire.” While Emick’s approach may not blend into the bigger-than-life, vernacular-challenged world of Runyon’s Times Square denizens, it gives the Gotham gambler a new sense of mystery, charisma and sexiness.
It’s enough to make you believe a staid missionary would fly to Cuba for dinner and land in his arms — which is what Garrett Long’s Sarah Brown does with natural ease and charm. As unbelievable as it may be, it’s a love story that seduces you into believing in and rooting for it.
The rest of the fine-voiced cast offer perfs more in keeping with the traditional Runyon template (though, oddly enough, not as captivating as Emick’s take). Jason Graae’s Nathan Detroit looks as well seasoned and comically desperate as a Preston Sturges character actor. Liz Larsen gives the right balance of dimness and vulnerability as Miss Adelaide (and even survives — barely — a few unfortunate Hot Box costume choices). Richard Ruiz proves solid comfort and joy as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and delivers the goods with “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”
Other Gotham pros in the 19-member cast, helmed with efficiency if not expediency by Mark Martino, include William Ryall, Bob Dorian, Gerry McIntyre and Mark Zimmerman.
Dan Kuchar provides charming Al Hirschfeld-inspired sets (featuring his own hidden moniker). Steven Freeman leads an 11-member orchestra.