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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
GUYS AND DOLLS
at the Nederlander

ROCKING THE BOAT
By MARK N. GRANT

  Craig Bierko and Lauren Graham/PH: Sara Krulwich

Some great Broadway musicals are never revived, others are serially revived. Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls is among the latter, a member of an elite club in which re-revivals get invidiously compared not only with the original production but with previous revivals. I fear this fine new production may have suffered a lukewarm reception owing to a "psychoneurotic syndrome" (to paraphrase Miss Adelaide) best described by the title line of Hume Cronyn's memoirs: "memory can be a terrible liar." (Some theater mavens have even accused elephantine-mnemonic me of this malady at times. As a kid I saw Vivian Blaine in the June 23, 1966 performance of the Jean Dalrymple City Center revival and I thought "great songs, but what a corny book." What did I know?) With Guys and Dolls, fond memories of both the excellent 1992 revival with Nathan Lane and Faith Prince and nostalgia for the mythic original 1950 cast have created stumbling blocks to perceiving and appreciating what really is a courageous new take on this all-time classic in director Des MacAnuff's new production.

Instead of playing Nathan Detroit as self-consciously larcenous and smarmily faux-apologetic, Oliver Platt does him as a Runyonized Leon Errol: a comical low-key henpecked bumbler, a crapshooting schlemiel who couldn't shoot craps crooked. Director McAnuff has Platt and Lauren Graham play both their characters as unheroic schlep/losers, and thereby endows Graham's long-suffering Adelaide with a gritty reality that becomes quite poignant and touching by the end of the second act. With a perpetual squint-eyed, toothsome, sunny dumb-broad smile, Ms. Graham's Adelaide has her own unique ditz quality neither Judy Holliday nor Melanie Griffith, winningly half-bright yet all-wise. Audiences looking for the Max Fleischer cartoon/Caesar-and-Coca act of Nathan Lane and Faith Prince- wonderful as they were and are- may find the different wattage of the pair here not what they expected. But I don't agree with the chorus of naysayers. To be fair, the pushed tempo of the 1992 Jerry Zaks production speedwayed over some of the lyrics' and lines' felicities, and Robert Alda's bland crooning on the OC album is nothing to venerate (unlike an Alfred Drake, he barely bothered to act with his singing voice). I think MacAnuff's is a fresh investigation of the relationships in the script (he does this with Sky and Sarah, too). And it works, it plays. By the end of the show you are really pulling for dear Adelaide. I found Ms. Graham's performance rich in newly discovered inflections and observed detail. What's more, she has a sweetness and charm that holds the stage and carries the show.

I usually don't like overproduction, but for once here we have high-tech that respects intimate dramatic values. So while we see a real Studebaker onstage in the Biltmore garage, McAnuff also has the smarts to have the three singers in "Fugue for Tinhorns" (actually a circle canon, or round) each take turns fading in and out, so you can actually hear the lyrics as more than a rhubarb. He interposes streetwalkers into the "Follow the Fold" march, revs up the tension during Sky Masterson's verse intro to "Luck Be a Lady" by inventing crapshooters' cries of "Come on, roll!", and funnies up the wedding scene by showing Nathan Detroit, at work at a hot dog stand, lowering an awning that reads "Nathan's." Throughout the show, a rear backdrop by video designer Dustin O'Neill gives the audience a veritable Google Earth of Runyon's New York, complete with Automat, speeding subways cars, a seaplane taking off in the Hudson for Havana, and an eerie descent into the sewer for which the video image seems t

 


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