The world has changed since "Guys and Dolls" hustled Broadway in 1950. For one thing, similar usage of the word "doll" -- not to mention "broad" -- gets a guy in trouble these days. And it's dicier, so to speak, to make a living off illegal gambling since state lotteries and legit casinos started cutting in on the action.
But some things never change. A Broadway-rich cast at Northport's John W. Engeman Theater reminds us that the heart of Frank Loesser's masterpiece -- never mind its brassy wisecracks and sexist leering -- is boy meets girl, girl tries to get boy to altar.
Miss Adelaide has been engaged 14 years to Nathan Detroit. Her fiance runs the "oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York." To secure a venue for the next game, Nathan needs a grand in advance. He places a sure bet with handsome, high-stakes gambler Sky Masterson that he can't take a missionary "doll" -- Bible-thumping Sarah Brown -- to dinner in Havana. To win the bet, Nathan promises to deliver 12 genuine sinners to Sarah's mission, just off Broadway.
Re-created in sharp-angled verticality (sets Adam Koch, lighting Cory Pattak), this Runyonesque midtown pulsates with city-never-sleeps energy. Moving indoors, Adelaide (Andréa Burns) leads the Hot Box Girls in Wade Laboissonniere's canary-yellow costumes that would barely cover a canary.
A Drama Desk winner ("In the Heights"), Burns offers an oddly restrained "Adelaide's Lament." How much dignity can a fiancee of 14 years really muster? But Burns redeems herself in her "Sue Me" duet with Thomas Hammond (shades of Frank Sinatra's movie take on Nathan), her lovestruck commiseration with Sarah (Jessica Grové) on "Marry the Man Today," plus Broadway's cleverest striptease ever, "Take Back Your Mink."
Director Peter Flynn deploys his deep, talented cast through the show's myriad treasures to Kim Douglas Steiner's musical direction: Josh Davis as smooth-talking Sky seduces Sarah with his voice (and a little Bacardi) on their "I've Never Been in Love Before" duet, in answer to her giddy "If I Were a Bell." Ken Jennings as Sarah's foster-father puts in a good word for romance ("More I Cannot Wish You"), while Philip Hoffman and Wayne Pretlow as gamblers Benny and Nicely-Nicely stack odds to favor the title song.
But it's Pretlow, aided by Barbara Tirrell as the missionary "general," who delivers us from evil with "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat." Choreographed in waves by Marcos Santana, the number will have you rockin' in your seat.
WHAT "Guys and Dolls," music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
WHEN | WHERE Thursday and Friday nights at 8, Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m., through June 19, at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, 250 Main St.
INFO $60; 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com
Lady Luck wasn't always with 'Guys and Dolls'
Although "Guys and Dolls" won big at the Tonys in 1951, it was also in line for a Pulitzer. But no prize for letters was awarded that year because of troubles with the House Un-American Activities Committee for Abe Burrows, who shared credit with Jo Swerling for the musical's book.
So "Guys and Dolls" settled for Tonys for best musical, best director (George S. Kaufman), best choreography (Michael Kidd), best actor in a musical (Robert Alda, Alan's dad) and best featured actress (Isabel Bigley).
The award was hard-earned for Bigley. According to creator Frank Loesser's daughter, the composer-lyricist slapped the actress during rehearsals for not singing to his standards. Besides Alda as Sky Masterson and Bigley as Sarah Brown, the original starred Sam Levene as Nathan Detroit and Vivian Blaine as Miss Adelaide.
But the biggest misstep in "Guys and Dolls" history was the 1955 movie. Marlon Brando tepidly sang "Luck Be a Lady." Frank Sinatra, who played Nathan Detroit in the film, later turned "Luck" into one of his signature songs.