Breakneck-paced ‘Guys and Dolls’ furnishes music, laughs

I may have told the story of my wife’s obsession before, but it seems appropriate to retell it now.

“Guys and Dolls” is without question her favorite musical. So I shouldn’t have been flabbergasted by what she did the one time we saw it together, when a national touring company lingered in San Francisco.

But I was.

Before the show, at home, she played the entire score on the piano. Then, in our car going to the city, she inserted a cassette and listened to the original cast. In the theater, she quietly hummed along with the actor/singers on stage. And on the way home, she played the cassette cuts we hadn’t had time to hear going in.

A bit too much for me, I’d informed her, despite my having loved each of the half dozen times I’d previously seen the show about sinners and saints.

Damon Runyan characters featured in “Guys and Dolls” are (from left) Nathan Detroit (Nelson Brown), Miss Adelaide (Deborah Spake), Sarah Brown (Lily Jackson) and Sky Masterson (Eric Levintow).

Happily, she didn’t repeat her lovable overkill when we attended the Marin Musical Theatre Co. production of “Guys & Dolls” at The Playhouse in San Anselmo the other night.

Which allowed me to fully appreciate Frank Loesser’s memorable, hummable music and lyrics again.

As well as the super-clever book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling.

And particularly splendid performances by Deborah Spake as Miss Adelaide, a squeaky-voiced stripper who’s been engaged for 14 years, and Tim Ryan as a larger-than-life tinhorn, the cartoonish Nicely Nicely Johnson.

Not to mention the exceptionally strong voices of Lily Jackson as Save-a-Soul missionary Sarah Brown and Eric Levintow as high-roller Sky Masterson.

Plus, of course, the high-spirited energy of the entire community theater cast of 29.

It’s amazing, in fact, how that many colorfully costumed performers keep from bumping into one another in rocket-paced dance numbers.

Credit must be given director Jenny Boynton, who’s also the company’s artistic director, who insisted the pace of the laugh-spurring show stay at a breakneck level.

And who didn’t hesitate to cast a few women in roles originally written for men.

For anyone who might have been hiding in a sewer playing craps since the show debuted in 1950 (or even since the film version came out five years later), the plot revolves around a bet that the ill-matched Sky can get Sarah to go with him to pre-Castro Cuba.

The musical, you may remember, is based on idiosyncratic 1920s and 1930s Broadway characters extracted from Damon Runyan short stories, gamblers such as Nathan Detroit (Nelson Brown), who runs a floating crap game, or others with unforgettable monikers like Harry the Horse, Angie the Ox and Liver Lips Louie.

You’ve probably heard many of the almost two dozen songs more than once — classics like “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” “Sue Me” and the title tune.

You may never before have seen eight enlarged dice used as devices for actors to stand and sit on, however.

Or heard stairs creaking when characters enter through the aisles.

So, if you go with an expectation that you’ll see a perfectly slick, seamless 135-minute Equity production, fuhgeddaboudit.

But if you don’t mind an occasional muffed line or minor glitch or two from a massive, well-rehearsed troupe and nine-piece band trying exceptionally hard to plaster a smile on your face — and succeeding — go.

As I left The Playhouse opening night, I overheard one balding oldtimer say, “It may be a cliché but it’s a shame they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

I have no argument with that.

“Guys & Dolls” will run at The Playhouse in San Anselmo, 27 Kensington Road, through July 28. Night performances, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees, 2 p.m. Saturdays. Tickets: $25 to $50. Information: (415) 233-0263 or

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About the Author

Woody WeingartenWoody Weingarten, who can be reached at or, can’t remember when he couldn’t talk — or play with words. His first poem was published in high school but when his hormones announced the arrival of adulthood, he figured he’d rather eat than rhyme. So he switched to journalism. And whadda ya know, the bearded, bespectacled fella has used big, small and hyphenated words professionally since jumpstarting his career in New Yawk City more than 60 years ago. Today the author of the book “Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner’s breast cancer” is also a reviewer-critic, blogger and publisher — despite allegedly being retired. During his better-paid years as a wage slave he was an executive editor and writer for daily and weekly publications in California, Florida, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York. He won writing awards for public service and investigation, features, columns, editorials and news. Woody also has published weekly and monthly newspapers, and written a national column for “Audio” magazine. A graduate of Colgate University, he owned a public relations/ad agency and managed an advertising publication. The father of two and grandfather of three, he and his wife, Nancy Fox, have lived in San Anselmo in Marin County for three decades. He figures they'll stay.View all posts by Woody Weingarten →