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Review: ‘Guys and Dolls’ rolls the die with style

Tri-Valley Rep kicks off residency at Firehouse with beloved musical comedy

The Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre kicked off its first performance as the Firehouse Arts Center’s resident troupe on Saturday night with the musical comedy “Guys and Dolls” -- and they delivered.

In a production brimming with energy, the actors brought alive the humorous plot, delivering witty dialogue and lyrics with character, emotion and believable chemistry, accompanied by well-crafted staging.

Set in a fictional Prohibition-era New York City and inspired by two Damon Runyon short stories, the plot of “Guys and Dolls” hinges on a gamble: if the wealthy Sky Masterson cannot convince prim missionary Sarah Brown to accompany him to Havana, then he will pay Nathan Detroit enough “dough” to run the biggest craps game in the city.

It’s a shoo-in bet, thinks Nathan, a loaded die. But this is a musical, after all, and nothing is 100% when it comes to love -- proven true when stern do-gooder Sarah Brown falls for Sky, the sinner who came to her professing to seek salvation. In the meantime, Nathan has his own issues, as Miss Adelaide, his fiance of 14 years, pushes him to finally seal the deal.

The production was lighthearted, yet conveyed with feeling. From beginning to end, the cast took the audience into the gritty streets of New York City, starting with an opening montage of freeze frames capturing snapshots of city life, and carried throughout with exaggerated, West Side Story-esque accents.

Though humorous, the musical carries some profound truths -- Oscar Wilde fashion -- about the differing perspective of “guys” and “dolls” on romance. It begs the question: “Should a person change for love?”

“Change, change,” Sky Masterson tells Miss Adelaide at one point. “Why is it the minute you dolls get a guy that you like, you take him right in for alterations?”

The lines were delivered in breezy, seamless fashion, though, keeping the production from straying into heavy-handed territory.

The four star-crossed protagonists shone especially brightly, driving the plot forward. Robert Lopez portrayed the befuddled trickster Nathan Detroit with expressive humor, while Morgan Stinson embodied his sassy-but-romantic fiance Miss Adelaide with charm and pizzazz. And Rachel Powers’ beautiful soprano captured the cautious innocence of hard-headed Sarah Brown, while Noel Anthony took on the wily Sky Masterson with an earnest intensity.

There were some stand-out performances by supporting actors as well; in particular, Johnny Orenberg owned the comedic role of ever-munching gambler Nicely-Nicely Johnson, and Jim Rupp performed an unexpectedly lovely rendition of “More I Cannot Wish You” as Sarah’s grandfather and fellow missionary.

At the heart of a musical, of course, is the music and dancing. Tri-Valley Rep’s musical numbers abounded with energy, with harmonious vocals and dancing (mostly in sync) that brought vivacity and spirit to the staged streets of New York and Havana.

The musical concludes by leaving viewers with some thought-provoking wit.

“Life is one big crap game,” Sky says, “and the Devil is using loaded dice!”

“Guys and Dolls” will show weekends at the Firehouse through Nov. 18, running at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. The show is directed by Kathleen Breedveld and Brian Olkowski, with musical direction by Sierra Dee and choreography by Kelly Krauss Cooper.

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