In this day and age, everyone is scaling back. Expenses are being cut down in any way they can, whether it’s drinking the office coffee instead of going to Starbucks, or holding off on buying that new pair of shoes to put the money in your savings account instead. It’s good advice, what with employment being uncertain and many people unsure of where their next paycheck will come from.
There seems to be one group of people who have not gotten this memo, and they are currently in residence at the Nederlander Theater, performing in the big, bright revival of Guys and Dolls. The latest revival of the musical comedy classic personifies the definition of excess in every way, from its overwrought use of neon lights to the clashing colors of the rainbow-hued suits the company wears, complete with matching fedoras.
Inspired by Damon Runyon’s short stories about gamblers in New York and the women they fall in love with, Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows’ musical has set the standard for musical comedy throughout the years. It is ripe with humor, romance and melody, almost certain to entertain any audience. Unfortunately, this production is an exception to that rule.
It’s hard to pinpoint the origin of the flaws in this performance, but one of the main proponents of its flatness is the absolute lack of energy in two of the starring roles. Oliver Platt stars as Nathan Detroit, the bookie for the “oldest established permanent floating craps game in New York,” in a role jam-packed with endearing quirks and idiosyncrasies and a great vehicle for a comedic stage actor. Watching Platt fumble his way through the part is boring, but also frustrating, as he delivers lines that should provoke laughter and even applause in a flat monotone. With his arms held stiffly at his sides, and his eyes staring straight ahead for the majority of the show, Platt appears ill at ease and even a bit afraid of Nathan Detriot. During the song “Sue Me,” when he implores his fiancé not to leave him, he appears more tired than anything else.
One of the many comedic aspects of Nathan Detriot is his 14-year engagement to the wistful stripper, Adelaine, played in this production by Gilmore Girls star Lauren Graham. Watching Graham and Platt onstage together, it is hard to imagine the two going on a second date, let alone discussing marriage for 14 years. The two hover awkwardly around each other and when they embrace, it looks like it is out of obligation rather than affection.
And how is Graham as Adelaine, one of the iconic female roles in musical comedy? Well, her legs are nice. That’s about all that can be reported. Oh, and she’s loud. Every moment that Graham is onstage, she seems to be yelling her lines, reciting them with a forced accent that is an obvious imitation of Vivian Blaine, who originated the role on Broadway in 1950. Graham’s singing voice is fine, and she can hit the few high notes written for her in the score, but her dancing abilities are obviously lacking, which makes her an incredulous choice to cast as an exotic dancer. Her best moment onstage took place during the wistful rendition of “A Person Could Develop A Cold,” which she sang sadly into an empty whiskey glass while sitting alone at a café table.
Happily, the choices for the love story of Sky Masterson and missionary Sarah Brown (Craig Bierko and Kate Jennings Grant) does not follow the example set by Platt and Graham. In a classic story of opposites attracting, Bierko and Grant begin by sparring but quickly progress to sizzling. Bierko is slick and smooth in the style of an old-fashioned leading man, and Grant is intensely likeable as the pure-hearted missionary who resists love for as long as possible. Her drunken proclamation of “If I Were A Bell” is one of the highlights of the evening.
The supporting cast is also questionable, with Titus Burgess giving a half-hearted performance as Nicely Nicely, and Steve Rosen as Benny Southstreet. The two, who are rarely seen onstage without the other, are a disjointed pair, delivering varying levels of energy, almost as if they are in two different productions. It is only during the rousing rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” that Burgess shows what he is capable of (and Mary Testa, playing General Cartwright, gets a little freaky).
The feeling of being disjointed – and excessive – is further exacerbated by the set. While props are moved on and off stage frequently, the set is enhanced by the use of video in the background, showing various scenes of the city. Rather than drawing the audience further into the show, they are distracting and at times even annoying. We know that “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” is about Heaven. We don’t need a visual of the sky in the background to inform us.
One cannot help but question how the material of the show has dated. In the age of online dating, postponing marriage for as long as possible and rampant divorce, the song “Marry The Man Today” is more depressing than amusing to witness. When the Brangelina lack of union is the idealized love story of our culture, where do Sky and Sarah fit in? “He’s Just Not That Into You” doesn’t seem to have much potential as a musical.