Robin and the 7 Hoods

Plays like a big fat hit. That hit is "Guys and Dolls," whose characters and tone are shamelessly mimicked.

Robbo Ortona - Eric Schneider Little John Dante - Will Chase Marian Archer - Kelly Sullivan Alana O'Dell - Amy Spanger Lt. Nottingham - Adam Heller Willie Scarlatti - Jeffrey Schechter P.J. Sullivan - Rick Holmes With: Timothy J. Alex, Clyde Alves, Graham Bowen, Andrew Cao, Cara Cooper, Page Faure, Lisa Gajda, Stephanie Gibson, Carissa Lopez, Vasthy Mompoint, Beth Johnson Nicely, Aleks Pevec, Sam Prince, Tally Sessions, Brian Shepard, Anthony Wayne.

Much of the Old Globe’s “Robin and the 7 Hoods,” an adaptation of a clumsy 1964 movie musical, plays like a big fat hit. That hit is “Guys and Dolls,” whose characters and tone are shamelessly mimicked — until one particular Casey Nicholaw staging of a Sammy Cahn/Jimmy Van Heusen song starts to lend the tuner a distinctive glow, prominently visible thereafter.

Retained from the glum pic, which presented the Rat Pack at its most listless, are the title and premise of a latter-day Chicago scoundrel enriching the poor at fatcats’ expense. The period has been pushed from Prohibition to 1962 in homage to “Mad Men,” though that cynical smash’s influence is less evident in ironic social satire than in designer Gregg Barnes’ tie and lapel widths. (Robert Brill’s grim set does evoke a Windy City skyscraper, but echoes of prison and conformity keep dampening the sense of tuner fun.)

The “Guys and Dolls” parallels are inescapable. After a “Runyonland”-like prelude set to the pic’s hit “My Kind of Town,” the “Robin” plot doles out a romance between a smoothie hood and an uptight reformer, kicked off by a wager; a raffish, henpecked lowlife resisting marriage to a nitery chantoosie; and a hard-boiled dick eyeballing mugs and molls running riot. And flying the comic couple, rather than the main lovers, off to a Latin American rendezvous doesn’t qualify as a blow for originality.

Yet all the familiarity — and pro forma squabbles of cafe owner Robbo (Eric Schneider, tinnily echoing Sinatra) and sworn enemy P.J. Sullivan (Rick Holmes) — suddenly melt away when Robbo leads crusading telejournalist Marian (Kelly Sullivan) to the floor, each claiming “I Like to Lead When I Dance.” Their turn becomes a three-act play with dozens of ploys to take command, like the compelling narratives always told by Fred and Ginger between the lines of a Continental or Carioca.

Thereafter the plot sputters through a wan “Ocean’s 11” gambit as the gang rips Sullivan off, and the gags are groaners. (A flirting Marian, rebuffed, explains “It was an ice-breaker. But then so was the Titanic.”) Both Kelly Sullivan and soubrette Amy Spanger apply relentless energy to roles lacking logic and consistency.

But the insouciant Van Heusen melodies and wicked Cahn wit lift the spirits as Nicholaw’s dances reveal character and texture. This is a composer/lyricist catalog put to its canniest use and arranged by John McDaniel, Bill Elliott and David Chase with Nelson Riddle surely smiling down from jazz heaven.

Showstoppers emerge from unlikely sources. Gallant Jeffrey Schechter leads the grateful recipients of Robbo’s largesse in a thrilling tap number to “Walkin’ Happy,” hearkening back to Gower Champion’s heyday.

“Come Blow Your Horn” has consigliere Little John (Will Chase) boosting the gang’s morale in a burst of athleticism rivaling Bernstein’s “Cool” for cool.

As far as development goes, fresher choices already lurk at the fringes. With Chase delightfully channeling Dean Martin in “You Can’t Love ‘Em All,” surely Dino’s carelessly boozy egotism would serve as a better obstacle to his fiancee’s tender trap than John’s current, lame “fear of commitment.”

Similarly, Schneider occasionally drops his plastic ring-a-ding-ding veneer to reveal ambivalence about Robbo’s shady past; his morality, only vaguely dealt with, is supposedly central to his dilemma. If we genuinely cared about his redemption, we could be made to cheer, from Adam Heller’s Lt. Brannigan bolstering our hero (a terrific use of “High Hopes”) right up to the trickily scripted finale.

Still, the 7 Dwarfs were nothing without a terrifying Wicked Witch, and “7 Hoods” won’t hit its stride until there’s menace at its core.

Despite, or maybe because of, what must be a world record for quips about violent death, we’re never fearful of the consequences for kidnapped Marian or John, let alone for Chicago, should the bland, buffoonish P.J. reign triumphant. And with no fear, there’s no emotional connection and no show. (The team might take another look at Peter Falk’s over-the-top monster mobster, the ’64 pic’s most watchable element.)

Even if the “Guys and Dolls” specter doesn’t recede, the writing and playing must go “all the way” to offer a hero to rally around and a villain to revile. Until then, “Robin and the 7 Hoods” will flash its grin and divert its audience for a while without truly hittin’ ’em where they live.

Popular on Variety

Robin and the 7 Hoods

Old Globe, San Diego; 587 seats; $89 top

Production: An Old Globe presentation in association with the Seven Hoods Limited Partnership, produced with the permission of Warner Bros. Theatrical Ventures, of a musical in two acts with book by Rupert Holmes, lyrics by Sammy Cahn and music by Jimmy Van Heusen. Directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. Music supervision, vocal and incidental music arrangements, John McDaniel.

Creative: Sets, Robert Brill; costumes, Gregg Barnes; lighting, Kenneth Posner; sound, John Shivers, David Patridge; orchestrator, Bill Elliott; music director, Mark Hummel; dance music arranger, David Chase; stage manager, Peter Wolf. Opened, reviewed July 30, 2010. Runs through Aug. 22. Running time: 2 HOURS, 25 MIN.

Cast: Robbo Ortona - Eric Schneider Little John Dante - Will Chase Marian Archer - Kelly Sullivan Alana O'Dell - Amy Spanger Lt. Nottingham - Adam Heller Willie Scarlatti - Jeffrey Schechter P.J. Sullivan - Rick Holmes With: Timothy J. Alex, Clyde Alves, Graham Bowen, Andrew Cao, Cara Cooper, Page Faure, Lisa Gajda, Stephanie Gibson, Carissa Lopez, Vasthy Mompoint, Beth Johnson Nicely, Aleks Pevec, Sam Prince, Tally Sessions, Brian Shepard, Anthony Wayne.Musical numbers: "Overture," "My Kind of Town," "Come Dance with Me," "You Can't Love 'Em All," "Call Me Irresponsible," "What Makes It Happen," "I Like to Lead When I Dance," "Life Is For Livin'," "Walkin' Happy," "More Than Likely," "Same Old Song and Dance," "Ain't That a Kick in the Head," "Entr'acte," "The Tender Trap," "Come Fly with Me," "Come On Strong," "High Hopes," "Love Is a Bore," "Come Blow Your Horn," "Ring-a-Ding Ding."

More Legit

  • David-Alan-Grier-Blair-Underwood

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood to Star in 'A Soldier's Play' on Broadway

    David Alan Grier and Blair Underwood will star in a Broadway production of Pulitzer-Prize winning drama “A Soldier’s Play.” The play, written by Charles Fuller, is set in 1944 and follows a murder mystery centered around the death of black Sergeant Vernon C. Waters (played by Grier) who is found on a Louisiana army base. [...]

  • The Inheritance review

    'The Inheritance' Announces Broadway Cast

    After an Olivier-winning run in London, “The Inheritance” is gearing up for its Broadway debut. The two-part epic has set the cast for its transfer from the West End to the Great White Way. John Benjamin Hickey, Paul Hilton, Samuel H. Levine, Andrew Burnap and Kyle Soller are among the cast members reprising their roles [...]

  • Patrick Page, Amber Grey, Eva Noblezada,

    'Hadestown' Announces 2020 National Tour

    ‘Hadestown’, the eight-time Tony award winning Broadway musical, is set for a national tour in 2020. The show will stop in more than 30 cities including Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and more. The musical is a stage adaptation of the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and King Hades and his wife [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Listen: Why Jake Gyllenhaal Is His 'Best Self' in the Theater

    Looking for the best possible version of Jake Gyllenhaal? You’ll find it onstage, according to the actor himself. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “I am my best self when I’m working in the theater,” Gyllenhaal said on the latest episode Stagecraft, Variety’s theater podcast, on which he appeared with Carrie Cracknell, the director of [...]

  • Photo: Jeremy Daniel

    'The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical' Gets Broadway Run

    “The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical” is Broadway bound. The musical adaptation of the franchise about a teenager who discovers he’s the son of Poseidon hits the Great White Way on Sept. 20 ahead of an Oct. 16 opening night. It comes on the heels of an extensive, nationwide tour that took the show [...]

  • Tom Sturridge Jake Gyllenhaal

    Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge Celebrate 'Sea Wall/A Life' With Star-Studded Opening Night

    A star-studded audience looked on as Jake Gyllenhaal and Tom Sturridge returned to the stage for their double monologue performance in “Sea Wall/A Life.” Theater-goers and celebs including Anne Hathaway, Tom Hiddleston and John Mulaney gathered in Manhattan’s Hudson Theatre for opening night, celebrating a show tackling grief, birth and death through the eyes of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content