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Guys and Dolls

The Olney Theatre Centre takes a gamble on a classic musical.

Tobias Young as Nicely-Nicely in the Olney Theatre Center production of Guys and Dolls, directed by Jerry Whiddon.
(© Stan Barouh)

When Guys and Dolls premiered on Broadway in 1950, the Frank Loesser musical, based on the stories of Damon Runyon, took the Great White Way by storm, thanks to a mix of salty characters and a score of top-notch musical numbers. Now, the Olney Theatre Center has mounted a faithful version of Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows' Tony-winning book into a production that is as exciting as a winning horse crossing the finish line. After all, a show about gamblers, piousness, showgirls, and romance is a combination worthy of anyone's C-note.

Centered around the New York men who take part in an illegal gambling ring and the women who orbit their world, Guys and Dolls focuses on two romances: one between a down-on-his-luck crap game organizer, Nathan Detroit (Paul Binotto), and his long-suffering fiancée, Adelaide, and a second between alpha gambler and bachelor Sky Masterson (Matt Faucher) and the pious Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown (Jessica Lauren Ball).

The theme of love being a gamble of its own is explored with the latter pair, when Sky bets Nathan that he can take any doll to Havana, and is perplexed when he falls for the devout, soul-saving Sarah. Faucher and Ball's spark is electric and revealing in the show's most transporting number, "I'll Know," which beautifully showcases both of their powerhouse voices.

Binotto is a hoot as Nathan. With his charm always saving the day, in both his romantic relationship with Adelaide, and when Sky offers him the money he needs if he can only answer a simple question, Nathan's responses are golden. Binotto keeps Nathan from becoming too much of a schnook and cements him as someone worth rooting for.

Lauren Weinberg delivers a great comic turn as Adelaide, the star performer at the Hot Box nightclub who suffers from a psychosomatic cold lasting as long as her 14-year engagement to Nathan. She shines in "Adelaide's Lament" and is a delight in "A Bushel and a Peck." Though Weinberg could have easily gone for cheap laughs, she instead brings a vulnerability to the character that rings true.

Other standouts include Ben Cunis and Evan Casey as Nathan's right-hand men Harry the Horse and Benny Southstreet, respectively. When Casey's character earnestly tells of his sins at the mission, it's both funny and a bit emotional. The ensemble is divine, with those playing the chirping dolls at the Hot Box Club, the degenerate gamblers, and the soul-saving mission members, mixing nicely together.

Director Jerry Whiddon moves things swiftly and tells both love stories with much aplomb. Still, it's the action of the gamblers — be it during a dice roll, at a testimonial or just looking for their next bet — where he excels. Moments such as Nathan searching for a place to hold the crap game or Big Julie (an intimidating yet winning Richard Pelzman) rolling invisible dice in a room full of on-lookers are guided to perfection by Whiddon's sure hand.

Don't be surprised if you leave the theater dancing, thanks to Tobias Young (playing Nicely-Nicely) singing a roof-raising rendition of "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," a showstopper if ever there was one. That's due also in part to an incredible eight-piece orchestra, ideally situated against New York City's skyline. The multilevel set by Dan Conway paints a great picture of the hustle and bustle of the time.

Choreographer Michael Bobbitt has the characters dancing in and out swiftly, and the large ensemble delivers some fantastic big-time dance numbers in songs like "Guys and Dolls" and "Luck Be a Lady."

If you're looking for a sure bet this December, forget the Redskins and put your money down on a classy show that can do and that you'll love a bushel and a peck.

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