Guys and Dolls is, quite possibly, the best musical ever performed at Harvard.
The previous statement may be a bit of an exaggeration. Plenty of fantastic musicals have gone up at this school. In the past three and a half years, I've been lucky enough to witness Godspell, Little Shop of Horrors, In Trousers and City of Angels, to name the first and the best that come to mind. But to say that I've seen anything that sang, swang, danced, romanced and gambled its way into the audience's hearts as much as Guys and Dolls did would definitely be an exaggeration.
Credit, however, must be given where credit is due. The show itself--a dark yet delightful story of Broadway's semi-sleazy underground--has been beloved ever since its 1950 opening. It won several Tonys then and collected even more during its revival in 1992, according to the program notes by director Colleen McGuinness '99. This, however, sets up a potential problem. The show has been adored for years for its fantastic fare of catchy songs, flamboyant characters and amazing dance numbers; like-wise, its immense popularity puts a good deal of pressure on any group that chooses to perform it.
Fortunately, Guys and Dolls not just stands up to these expectations; itswing dances past them with more energy than an outlawed crap game. The entire cast's over-the-top cheeziness, along with a combination of talent rarely seen in one production, makes every single character in the show so ridiculous and lovable that the audience adores each of them on sight. Oh, yeah--and they can sing and dance, too!
While an entire review filled with glorious praise could be written about each person who struts upon the stage of Guys and Dolls, I will have to try to summarize and make my raves more concise: The near-slapstick duo of Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Abraham Mills) and Benny South street (John Keefe) become the most clumsily charming racketeers the world has ever seen. Harry the Horse (Julio V. Gambuto), Big Jule (Clay Petre), and the other crap enthusiasts stumble over each other and gawk in bad New York accents with such silliness that many people (myself included) laughed 'til it hurt. Likewise, their constant escapes--and the vicious cut-downs they receive--from Lt. Brannigan (Matthew Johnson) are uproariously funny. Joe Gfaller, as the bass drum-playing missionary Arvide Abernathy, may not have the largest part in the show, but his strong voice and kindly yet amusing demeanor still stand out in the crowd.
The two leading men, Nathan Detroit (Geoff Oxnard) and Sky Masterson (Jason Mills), cannot be praised enough. The bumbling Nathan, trying to balance his beloved crap game and his doll Adelaide, goofs things up to near disaster but remains one of the most hysterically funny--and sweetly romantic--'guys' in the entire production. Mills, no stranger to the Hasty Pudding stage, lets the less farcical side of his acting abilities shine through while still making the audience howl with laugher and exuding a voice to swoon over.
But as crazily wonderful as the guys in the show are, the dolls--er, women--are their perfect match. All of the "Hot Box" Girls (who double as "extra dolls" and Cuban dancers)--Elizabeth Darst, Jody Flader, Mari Foreman, Esther Riggen, Jamie Smith and Phoebe Taubman--give performances of a lifetime. As "Hot Box" girls, they cackle and strut with such all-out campiness that it defies words (the "A Bushel and a Peck" number wins my vote for "Funniest Thing I've Ever Seen on a Harvard Stage"), and the spicy Havana dance scene both awes the audience members and heats up their blood. On the other end of the spectrum, the missionary leader Sarah Brown, played by Jaclyn Huberman, brings tears to the audience's eyes with her sincere devotion to the "Save a Soul" Mission as well as with her absolutely angelic voice. She is one of the few non-comical characters in the show yet her open-hearted sweetness, determination and love for the gambling Sky help her triumph over a mass of clumsy criminals and silly showgirls.
The star of the show, unquestionably, has to be Miss Adelaide, played by Vered Metson with squawky gusto and a show-stopping voice. She fawns over her fiance (of 14 years!) Nathan, and the audience giggles; she prances around stage as the lead "Hot Box" girl, and the audience roars; she impishly mourns the possibility that Nathan might never marry her, and the audience audibly sighs in sympathy. One twitch of her eyebrows sends everyone into laugher; her shoulder-shimmying, red-wearing, bad-accent-sporting, all-out Adelaide brings down the house.
And the dancing! Oh, the dancing! Such
In addition, every aspect of the show that had nothing to do with the cast was marvelous as well. The orchestra seemed a little too soft during the overture but was soon found to blend in perfectly with the singers' voices, accompanying them well without overshadowing them. The lighting, from the brilliantly-lit Broadway to the dim "Save A Soul" Mission to the smoky Cuban restaurant, created a myriad of moods that matched each scene perfectly. The sets, the backdrops and especially the costumes also added immensely to the feel of the production--the guys' tastefully tacky plaid jackets and mismatched outfits and the dolls' semi-trashy stage costumes and swirly dresses complimented the show perfectly.
As many already know, the fact that Guys and Dolls is running at the Hasty Pudding Theater is in itself a notable event. As the first undergraduate production performed there in a decade to include women in the cast, Guys and Dolls will hopefully not be the last. McGuinness, Augustine and their fine cast and crew have made Harvard history--both in fighting for more coeducational productions and experiences at Harvard and for doing so with one of the best, if not the best, musicals this school has seen in a long, long time