Review: Lady luck is with AMTSJ's 'Guys and Dolls'

For musical lovers in particular or anyone in the market for a rock-solid show, it's worth a trip to the South Bay to see the American Musical Theatre of San Jose's production of the Frank Loesser, Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows classic “Guys and Dolls.”

The professional not-for-profit theater, now entering its 73rd year, has rounded up a cast of Broadway veterans who bring to life Damon Runyan's quintessential New York characters: gamblers Nathan Detroit (Rick Hilsabeck) and Sky Masterson (Burke Moses), show girl Miss Adelaide (Michele Ragusa) and missionary Sarah Brown (Sarah Uriarte Berry).

The musical is a rollicking, visual and aural delight, opening with the overture and a joyful, punchy city street scene choreographed by Vince Pesce. The pitch-perfect, operatic Roland Rusinek, as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, kicks off the killer first number “Fugue for Tinhorns” (“I've got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere”). Noel Anthony as Benny Southstreet and Colin Thomson as Rusty Charlie join him in the trio, setting the high-quality standard that doesn't let up for the rest of the show.

Each lead has at least one moment in the spotlight. There's Nathan, who, with his gambling cohorts (excellent dancing boys) look for a place for their crap game (and find out they need $1,000 to procure one) in “The Oldest Established.”

Meanwhile, Adelaide, Nathan's fiancée of 14 years, dances with her chorus girls in “A Bushel and a Peck” and bemoans the fact that she's not yet married in “Adelaide's Lament.”

Sarah, in search of souls to save, meets Sky, who bet Nathan a grand that he could get Sarah to Cuba. Both imagine their perfect sweetheart in the lovely ballad “I'll Know.” Sarah and Sky do get to Cuba, where the dancers are hot and the drinks flow freely. A more-than-tipsy Sarah succumbs to Sky in “If I Were a Bell,” a tune that particularly shows off Loesser's clever word play: “Ask me how do I feel, ask me now that we're fondly caressing/ Well, if I were a salad I know I'd be splashing my dressing.”

Nicely-Nicely and Benny sum up the burgeoning troubles in the title tune, which, while dated, is still funny and rings true.

And that's just Act 1. Action, music and laughs unfold with equal fervor in Act 2, with the exception of the penultimate tune, “Marry the Man”; its "catch the guy and change him” theme can't be viewed as anything but sexist today.

William Liberatore leads the orchestra, which terrifically provides the show's backbone. The live music puts “Guys and Dolls” over the top; there's simply no better treat than a superlative production of a classic show.

IF YOU GO

Guys and Dolls

Presented by American Musical Theatre of San Jose

Where: San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $14.75 to $74

Contact: (888) 455-7469 or www.amtsj.org

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