Monday, September 25, 2017

The Milwaukee Rep presents "Guys & Dolls"

The house wins with this musical classic

Considering the Milwaukee Repertory Theater's core mission of igniting positive change and inspiring meaningful dialogue, I initially wondered where Guys & Dolls fits in with such a narrative. Past Milwaukee Rep musicals include Ragtime and The Color Purple — shows that certainly have a lot of cultural significance and a lot to say. 

But a show like Guys & Dolls is no less culturally significant, really. The musical comedy about two small-time gamblers and the women who love them topped Entertainment Weekly's list of the "Greatest Musicals of All Time." When the show opened on Broadway in 1950, it garnered unanimously rave reviews, ran for 1200 performances, and won the Tony for Best Musical.

Though Guys & Dolls might not offer deep self reflection, it continues to be a staple of the American musical tradition for accomplishing the one thing musical theater set out to offer in the first place: An escape. A sense of sheer joy. A break from the monotony of reality and our own personal problems. A chance to be part of a fantasy world of song and dance for a few hours — where the laughs are rehearsed and the guy gets the girl — and leave with a smile. 

While certain plot points are certainly squirm-worthy by today's standards (women patiently waiting 14 years for a promised marriage, or being duped into one-night flings in Havana — all at the hands of two gambling schmucks), it's best to check your feminism at the door and let a nearly 70-year-old musical do its thing. At this Milwaukee Rep production, the Guys & Dolls "thing" is to wow audiences with superb talent, gloriously dizzying choreography, electric set design (literally), and hilarity to boot.

The four leads are expertly cast, bringing knockout voices, humor, and heart to their respective roles. The veritable Don Juan of the crew is Sky Masterson, played by Nicholas Rodriguez with charm for days and a voice worth swooning over. It's easy to see why the timid Sarah Brown, played by Emma Rose Brooks, would follow him all the way to Havana just for a dinner date. It's in Cuba that Brooks' comedic side comes out to play, singing "If I Were a Bell" with adorably tipsy flair. 

Bringing another dose of humor is Kelly Faulkner as Miss Adelaide — the doll who's been waiting 14 years to wed gambler Nathan Detroit, played by the golden-voiced Richard R. Henry. Faulkner is an absolute delight, working the ditzy chorus girl persona to perfection, and with a stellar voice and pair of dancing shoes to back it up.

In fact, spectacular dancing shoes back up this entire Guys & Dolls production, taking the show to next-level greatness. Choreography by Stephen Mear is a treat to watch at every juncture, especially the scintillating Havana scene with its flurry of ruffles, high kicks, and seduction. I dare say there is better choreography and talent on stage now at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater than in some of the touring Broadway productions I've seen in recent years. 

It's little wonder that a standing ovation followed the finale on opening night. The crowd not only thundered for the aforementioned favorites, but a couple other characters who threatened to steal the show: Michael J. Farina as the likably smarmy Nicely-Nicely Johnson and David Hess as the fatherly Arvide Abernathy. Farina and the Guys & Dolls company drew uproarious applause following the joyful, gospel-style show-stopper "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." Hess took a quieter approach, beautifully delivering the most poignant tune of the evening, "More I Cannot Wish You."

While Arvide Abernathy wishes that Sarah Brown find her "own true love this day," it's my wish that Milwaukee-area theatergoers take time out of the busyness, the humdrum, the reality, and gamble on a night of musical comedy at the Milwaukee Rep. This one's a sure winner. 

Guys & Dolls is playing through October 29th at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater. Info and tickets at

*Photos courtesy of Michael Brosilow

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your perspective! I agree, the show was incredible.