By Ross Stapleton-Gray
The production of Guys and Dolls that opened at the Berkeley Playhouse this past Saturday is very good. But you should see it so that you’ll be able to say (and odds are 8 to 5 that you will), “I saw Sarah Mitchell’s Miss Adelaide (in a very good production of Guys and Dolls).”
I had seen Mitchell once before, as Mayzie La Bird in the Berkeley Playhouse production of Seussical, and she was quite good in that rather small role, As Adelaide she steals the show.
Miss Adelaide and her fiancé of 14 years, Nathan Detroit, are the secondary romance in the show. They’re the comic counterparts to the central love interests, the missionary Sara Brown and the gambler Sky Masterson, but it’s easy to see the two couples as sharing the limelight equally.
We’re pretty much expecting the (lead) guy will get the (lead) girl, which makes the Sky/Sara romance a sweet story, but without too much suspense. Angel Burgess, as Sara, and Carmichael J. Blankenship, as Sky, admirably banter, bluster and tango across a familiar romantic arc, toward a happily ever after.
But we’re really drawn in by what might (or might not) happen with Nathan and Adelaide… long-(long!)-suffering, psycho-so-ma-ti-cally beset, Adelaide. Mitchell inhabits the role, and commits to it totally… every sniffle, twitch, stared dagger and exasperated, “Nathan!”
Michael Scott Wells, as Nathan, holds his own, with good comic timing and a wonderful sad-sack resignation as the fiancé/foil to force-of-nature Adelaide.
The opening show saw solid performances by the rest of the cast, most of whom were doing double duty as street toughs, missionaries, Cuban cabaret dancers and/or chorus girls backing Adelaide as the featured performer down at the Hot Box club.
Based on several short stories by Damon Runyon, with a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, and music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, Guys and Dolls won the Tony award as Best Musical in its 1950 Broadway debut, and has been revived there three times; the 1955 film adaptation starred Marlon Brando as Sky, and Frank Sinatra as Nathan.
Whether or not you’ve seen the show before, you know the songs: the opening “Fugue for Tinhorns” (“I got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere”), “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” and a rollickingly delightful “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” delivered by Joshua Castro in his Berkeley Playhouse debut as Nicely Nicely Johnson.
The set and lighting of the Berkeley Playhouse production are inspired, and well suited to the Julia Morgan theater. The stage is raked, which makes all of the action more visible, and the very spare set (bare walls, and a city silhouette screen) was used, under various lighting effects, for everything from “Runyonland” streets, to the Save-a-Soul mission, and a Havana nightclub. The design also employs a false perspective, which creates an effect of greater depth, and coupled with the stage’s thrust out into the theater, an intimacy with the audience, as if we too could take a step and be there on those Bowery streets.
The show was similarly spare in props and relies heavily on pantomime and dance, all to good effect.
One weaker point was in the music, provided by a three-piece band: while there was never a wrong note, there really ought to have been many more of them, to match the lushness of the action on stage.
But go and see Adelaide — a sure-thing bet, if ever there was one.
Guys and Dolls runs through April 28 at the Julia Morgan Theatre, 2640 College Ave. in Berkeley. www.berkeleyplayhouse.org. Showtimes: Thursdays and Fridays, 7 p.m.; Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m. Ticket prices: $60 for VIP tickets; $35 for adults; $33 for seniors; $25 for youth and $17 for tots. Group rates available: Call the box office at 510-845-8542, ext. 351.
Would you like a digest of the day’s Berkeley news in your inbox at the end of your working day? Click here to subscribe to Berkeleyside’s free Daily Briefing.