Guys and Dolls

Paper Mill Playhouse - Millburn, NJ - June 2004

Review by John Kenrick

(The images below are thumbnails – click on them to see larger versions. All the photos below are by Gerry Goodstein, and are used with the permission of Paper Mill.)

Guys and Dolls 
        at Paper Mill (31657 bytes)Kate Baldwin, Robert Cuccioli, Karen Ziemba and Michael Mastro in Paper Mill's 2004 revival of Guys and Dolls.

After a less than dazzling Broadway season, its reassuring to see a bona fide classic in a first class professional production. Seeing the glorious Guys and Dolls, the greatest American musical comedy of all time, I now know why shows like Boy From Oz, Wicked and Avenue Q  seemed so mediocre -- it's because they are mediocre! The folks at Paper Mill couldn't have picked a better time to bring back this Frank Loesser-Abe Burrows masterpiece.

Musicals don't get better than this. Every song in Guys and Dolls is a gem, and every scene a pleasure. In fact, the final scene of Act One is a perfect one-scene musical in its own right -- all of the characters appear, the various plots all careen into each other, and the matchless "I've Never Been In Love Before" lets audiences cheer and wipe away a happy tear or two. This show has delighted audiences in high schools and community theatres for more than half a century -- but oh how good it is to see how Guys and Dolls dazzles in the hands of gifted professionals!

Some of the professionals on this have done a more impressive job here than others. Director Stafford Arima has the wisdom to stand back and let this amazing material speak for itself -- although one could argue that even the best musical would benefit from a staging that exhibits more freshness and imagination than he offers here. The same is true of Patricia Wilcox's choreography. The final results are thoroughly professional and entertaining, but somewhat lacking in originality.

At the same time, it is delightful to once again see the exquisite Tony-winning sets Tony Walton gave Broadway back in 1992 -- looking fresh and vibrant, depicting 1940s Manhattan in an explosion of cartoon colors. Randall Klein has coordinated a handsome rainbow of costumes, and F. Mitchell Dana lights it all with style -- although several jarring transitional flashes almost looked like mistakes.

Michael Mastro and Karen Ziemba (15505 bytes)Michael Mastro and Karen Ziemba

Happily, there were no mistakes in the casting! Sexy, loveable, and musically irresistible, Broadway favorite Karen Ziemba is clearly having a ball as Miss Adelaide, the show girl who has waited fourteen years to marry crap game entrepreneur Nathan Detroit. Michael Mastro provides excellent comic support as Nathan, balancing befuddlement and panic in his attempts to keep his customers and his long-suffering fiancé.

Kate Baldwin is charming as Sarah Brown, the straight-laced Salvation Army sergeant who falls in love with a gambler -- her uninhibited "If I Were a Bell" was a treat. As gambler Sky Masterson, Paper Mill and Broadway veteran Robert Cuccioli scatters sex appeal and baritone high notes across the stage with seemingly effortless abandon. Its a pleasure to hear songs like "Luck Be a Lady" sung with such polish, and Cuccioli's many fans will be pleased to know that he has never looked hotter!

Robert Cuccioli (8821 bytes)Robert Cuccioli sings Frank Loesser's "Luck Be a Lady."

The supporting cast is extremely solid, with Robert Creighton a standout as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, the small time hood who stops the show with the rousing "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat." As Arvide Abernathy, Bob Dorian (who many will remember as the longtime host of cable TV's American Movie Channel) offers a touching rendition of "More I Cannot Wish You" -- it is a pleasure to see this often neglected role in such caring hands. And it was fun to watch Tia Speros deliver laughs as a surprisingly lascivious General Cartwright.

New Jersey's state government gave its arts organizations a nerve wracking year, first cutting and then restoring their arts budget. Whatever the challenges, Paper Mill Playhouse delivered an extraordinary season. Kudos to Paper Mill President Michael Gennaro, Associate Producer Roy Miller, and Associate Director Mark S. Hoebee for keeping faith with their audiences.

Tired of paying $100 a seat to catch pseudo-Muppets cursing, monkeys flying and Indians doing gymnastics in fountains? Paper Mill's Guys and Dolls will remind you what a great musical looks, sounds and feels like.

This production ran through July 18, 2004.

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