Review: Shakespeare festival’s ‘Guys and Dolls’ still ‘Nicely-nicely’ after all these years

The cast of Utah Shakespeare Festival's "Guys and Dolls" on stage at the Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Karl Hugh, courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

REVIEW — There’s plenty of fun, frivolous folderol in the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s “Guys and Dolls,” ever the crowd-pleasing musical based on Damon Runyon’s short stories about goofy gamblers and unlikely lovers.

While not without its flaws, the show gets oodles of entertainment mileage out of its endearing Frank Loesser score and a punchy, often hilarious script fused with several iconic songs. Augmenting the production are colorful, streetwise characters and uniquely circumlocutory dialogue.

From L-R: Alexandra Zorn as Sarah Brown and Brian Vaughn as Sky Masterson in Utah Shakespeare Festival’s “Guys and Dolls” on stage at the Randall L. Jones Theatre, Cedar City, Utah, date not specified | Photo by Karl Hugh, courtesy Utah Shakespeare Festival, St. George News

In the bustle of post-Depression era New York City, popular gambler Nathan Detroit (Quinn Mattfeld) needs a location for his illegal floating crap game. Nathan finds himself wagering $1,000 with suave high-roller Sky Masterson (Brian Vaughn) to acquire the security deposit. Though Nathan has promised his 14-year-old dame and hot-box dancer Miss Adelaide (Melinda Parrett) that he’s given up gambling, he can’t pass up a surefire bet: That Masterson can’t get the devout Salvation Army sergeant Sarah Brown (Alexandra Zorn) to go out with him.

Peter Rothstein’s direction is sprightly and spunky and keeps things moving as they should.

The visuals are buoyed by the perfectly paired combination of costume designer K.L. Alberts’ brightly colored wardrobe and a simple but effective Times Square-influenced set by Jason Lajka.

The underground crap game’s cranked-up reverb echoes appropriately, while the stunning lighting design make song favorites like “Luck Be a Lady” crackle with vibrancy.

The missed cues, audible backstage talking, and mic problems evident in this particular performance are uncharacteristic of the festival and, no doubt, are already corrected – they are hardly worth mentioning.

More problematic are the casting choices among the leads. Gifted actors all, with superlative skills. But only Mattfeld’s cool, charismatic Nathan — a stark contrast to other, unnecessarily hammy portrayals (we’re looking at you, Nathan Lane) — feels right for the part.

As any honest theater fan will admit, talent alone doesn’t guarantee the right fit when casting even the most experienced actors. Age, vocal style, persona, swagger, even body language need to fit the character and mesh with the other actors as well.

Granted, the repertory nature of the festival requires filling roles in nine shows, a logistical nightmare to be sure. But it seems reasonable that the festival can be (and usually is) remarkably adept at selecting from its pool of actors — 65 this year — the best match for each role. And it’s safe to say there isn’t an average talent in the repertory.

 “Guys and Dolls” is sure to please most patrons. The great songs keep coming one right after another; “More I Cannot Wish You” is especially moving and a rousing “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” doesn’t disappoint. But this production is not the festival’s best work. Better than the perfunctory rendition of “South Pacific” from 2015, but not as stellar as last year’s “Mary Poppins,” “The Cocoanuts” or “Murder for Two” productions that, not coincidentally, were perfectly cast.

Event details

  • What: Utah Shakespeare Festival’s “Guys and Dolls.”
  • Where: Randall L. Jones Theatre at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, 299 W. Center St., Cedar City.
  • When: Runs through Sept. 1, in revolving repertory with other shows.
  • Tickets: $20-$79, with discounts for groups, students, locals and seniors. Purchase tickets by calling 1-800-752-9849 or online

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