The 1999-2000 season will mark the 20th anniversary of the Kavinoky Theatre, which has opened its past several with musicals. This year, they rolled the dice and gambled on Frank Loesser's classic "Guys and Dolls" -- a wager that should pay off in spades.
"Guys and Dolls" just may be the perfect evening out. It's got more gambling than Casino Niagara and more mobsters than "The Sopranos." There's scripture of those who like that sort of thing and strippers and hookers for those who don't. And as if that weren't enough, the opening night audience was treated to a cameo by Irv Weinstein. It's enough to make you think you were, well, on a boat to heaven.
Director/choreographer Lynn Kurdziel-Formato hits the jackpot here. We expect her dance numbers to be sensational and they don't disappoint. But beyond that, it appears that the entire show -- right down to the slightest bit of business by chorus members and extras -- has also been choreographed. This attention to detail deepens the show's texture; no matter where you look onstage there's something interesting going on.
Paul Maisano is such a smoldering Sky Masterson, it's easy to see how he could make a girl forget her calling. Though his pick-up lines are smooth, his singing is smoother, especially on the volley-challenging "My Time of Day." Susan Biesinger has just the right spunk as Sarah Brown and makes her transition from missionary to "doll" believable. Vocally, she exhibited some shrillness in her upper-most range on opening night, with the otherwise excellent sound system experiencing some difficulty with the highest frequencies of her songs.
And what songs! The "Guys and Dolls" score has enough memorable tunes for three Broadway shows -- "I'll Know," "Luck Be a Lady," "I've Never Been in Love," "Bushel and a Peck," "Guys and Dolls," "Fugue for Tinhorns" and "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat."
The songs aren't the only wealth of riches. When the omni-talented John Fredo (Nathan Detroit) sings "Sue Me" you wish he'd had more songs -- until you see him do, "The Crap Game Dance" at which time you decide you'd be happy to watch him dance all night. And since the crowd wants Norm Sham's "Sit Down, You're Rocking The Boat" to go on forever, they've lengthened it a bit to include a show-stopping revival rap. Sham has become the Kavinoky's "Mr. September" and has had nearly as many hits.
Well-known actors such as Tom Owen and Syndi Star admirably handle supporting roles and Victor Morales plays Big Jule from Chicago to the hilt. Special mention must be made of the gamblers in general and Fredo, Sham, Michael Formato and Michael Walline in particular. Vocal director James Deiotto turns them into a dynamite Boys Choir of Broadway and Kurdziel-Formato turns them into the "Stomp" dancers. And they call the Sabers the hardest working team in town.
In her first role at the Kavinoky, Mary McMahon is simply terrific as Adeliade, who has a killer cold and a wardrobe to match, thanks to costume designer Dorothy Collins, whose delightful zoot suits are reminiscent of an explosion at an M&M factory. The lapels aren't the only things that are crisp. Musical director Don Jenczka keeps the nearly-three-hour show well-paced and adds some nice touches -- including a tinny "Fugue for Tinhorns" and some lovely harp sounds on "More I Cannot Wish For."
Shea's Buffalo is lucky it doesn't have "Guys and Dolls" on its schedule this season. It's hard to imagine that even a national touring company could trump this Big Jule of a production.
Guys and Dolls
Rating: **** 1/2 STARS
Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, based on the work of Damon Runyon.
Directed and choreographed by Lynne Kurdziel-Formato, featuring Norm Sham, John Fredo and others.
Performances through Oct. 24 at the Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave. (881-7668).