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The national touring company production of Frank Loesser's wonderful musical stage hit "Guys and Dolls" is playing the Shea's and it is excellent, a show of shows.

Loesser's music and lyrics are always a delight but four-time Tony Award-winning director Jerry Zaks has taken pure gold and burnished it until it glows from within. He is amply assisted here by Tony Walton's exuberant, brilliantly colorful set designs.

If you're not familiar with Walton's work (it's won him three Tonys and 13 nominations plus five Oscar nominations), you'll remember his name after this one. Walton's Times Square snaps like a live wire. It's everybody's favorite memory of Manhattan in its prime. Particularly effective is the movement in and out of scenes using scrims and lighting effects.

William Ivey Long's costume design is equally arresting and complements the sets superbly. Christopher Chadman's choreography turns every little turn of the head into a small and perfectly realized dance. What he does with the production numbers, especially "The Crapshooter's Dance," several dances by Adelaide and the Hot Box girls and the stunning "Havana" will keep you in his thrall. Wonderful work.

Musical direction here is by Randy Booth and he and the entire cast are engaged in a happy, snappy marriage of equals. Beth McVey is certainly one of the best Adelaides ever to tear off a mink. She never plays her dumb, either. The character holds her own in a sea of feist and talent. Every one of her numbers is among the best in the show. Philip LeStrange as Nathan Detroit is also very good, leading the pack of crap-shooting dancers all over the stage like a sales manager with a quota to meet.

Sky Masterson, played by Richard Muenz, and Sarah, played by Patricia Ben Peterson, are handsome, elegant and strong performers whose stage chemistry lends enormous credibility to their roles as lovers drawn together against all odds. Although there's a lot of good work between them, I was particularly struck by Peterson's original and engaging rendition of "If I Were a Bell" and by both of them in the "Havana" sequence.

Nor would the production be as swell without the exceptional cast of "guys" and "dolls" who chortle and sing and hoof their way up and down the flats.

This is a vibrant, colorful show that grabs the audience from its opening production number to the world's most postponed wedding. The music is familiar, of course, but seldom has it received such treatment. This is the kind of production that marked the golden age of Broadway musical theater. There's been little enough splendor since although we are often asked to pay more for less.

"Guys and Dolls"

Rating:***** A great production of the musi cal classic directed by Jerry Zaks starring Beth McVey, Philip LeStrange, Richard Muenz and Patricia Ben Peterson. Performances continue at 8 to night through Friday, at 2 and 8 Saturday, and at 2 and 7 Sun day, in Shea's Buffalo Center, 646 Main St. (852-5000)

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