How a Downtown Las Vegas theatre troupe refreshed a classic rom-com musical
What’s not to love about a dicey rom-com featuring suave gamblers, sassy showgirls, and a band of singing soul-savers? A famous floating craps game has hit Downtown Las Vegas, with beckoning bettors pursuing the hearts of fierce women who aren’t interested in playing games.
An energized revival of the musical comedy “Guys and Dolls,” produced by Jason Outlaw and directed by Simone, is running from February 9 through February 26 at Vegas Theatre Company. The ensemble comprises professional actors, musicians and burlesque performers, accompanied by a live jazz band.
Set in the Depression era, “Guys and Dolls” follows the overlapping love stories of high roller Sky Masterson, who while on a wager unexpectedly falls in love with missionary Sarah Brown, and of charismatic croupier Nathan Detroit, who is hesitant to wed Hot Box headliner Adelaide, his fiancée of 14 years. As his fiancée fantasizes about getting married, Nathan is looking for a safe spot to operate his floating crap game. Sarah, in the meantime, is conflicted about her affection for Sky because she believes he set up an illegal game at the mission.
Before reviewing the show, Off The Strip interviewed the director and show leads about how this production came to fruition.
Words from the Cast and Crew of ‘Guys and Dolls’
How The Artistic Director Revived A Classic
Simone, an accomplished performer and artistic director, explains the most significant challenges of bracing a theatrical gem like “Guys and Dolls.”
“This musical was written in 1950, and while it is called ‘Guys and Dolls,’ it is really more about the Guys than the Dolls, who exist mostly as a foil to the leading men. I wanted to try [to] access a more modern sensibility when dealing with these often characterized women,” Simone says. “The script itself offers us women who are resilient and independent, so I leaned in on that, but there are still moments written in the show that are stubbornly antiquated.”
He adds. “Secondly, not only has this musical been staged so often over the years, but it was also turned into a star-studded film. Because of this, it’s easy to just slip into playing the story and the characters the way they have always been played. But I wanted to side-step a bit, and that meant rediscovering who these characters are, all the while trying to keep the assumptions out of the pot. It became more of a side-leap.”
The creation of this “uniquely intimate” musical, according to the director, was a collaborative effort.
Finding Inspiration For Character Development
Ryan Remark, a seasoned performer playing Sky Masterson, expresses how he prepared for this prominent role.
“Approaching a character like Sky was more complex than I had imagined. This is a guy who has done wrong, knows that he’s done wrong, continues to do wrong, but ultimately has a character arc and redemption that really hit me personally,” Remark says. “It’s a fine line to walk between charming and scumbag, but I feel him come more to life every day. I tried to envision what my grandfather may have been like in his younger days and tried to emulate that as much as possible.”
Many consider “Guys and Dolls” the best musical comedy of all time, but the original source material does pose some issues with its misogynistic undertones.
“There’s a lot of inherit misogyny in a lot of these older shows that is often overlooked or purposely ignored. We’re fully aware of the time period in which this story takes place, but Simone has found a way to shine a little light on the progress that has been made in regards to equality,” Remark says. “These characters are real people with real feelings and motives, and they deserve to be played as such.”
What Makes ‘Guys and Dolls’ A Crowd-Pleaser
Dayna Womack, a rising star portraying Sarah Brown, says this is her first stage show since graduating last winter from Biola University with a degree in Cinema and Media Arts, and a minor in theology and biblical studies. When she accepted this role, she ventured outside of her comfort zone.
“The biggest challenge I’ve had is probably my internal fears. I’m a little closed off by nature, so falling in love with a stranger every night is entirely out of my comfort zone,” Womack says. “I’ve been so fortunate to work with such a top-notch cast and Ryan Remark is so patient with me while I navigate my first professional lead role.”
So, how has this musical maintained a devout fan base since the 1950s? Womack explains why she believes it’s still a hit today.
“I think this musical is still so popular because the jokes are classic and the storyline is malleable. It’s a basic guy-meets-girl [and] can-you-keep-a-secret kind of story and that’s what we all need today,” Womack says. “When audiences come to see the show, there’s something for everyone; we have action, romance, dancing, and laughs. I always say if a show can take your mind off your own drama, it’s here to stay.”
Interviews edited for length and clarity.
‘Guys and Dolls’ Review: A Fun-Loving Rendition of a Classic
On the evening of Friday, February 10, “Guys and Dolls” performed its opening show. A live jazz trio nestled in an offstage corner introduced the musical with a giddy melody under a modest spotlight.
The show unfolds in a flexible black box theater, with the audience seated on all three sides, nearly in the round. In this minimal setting, it is the delicate details that enliven a retro New York City-inspired backdrop like an old-fashioned street lamp, rundown brick walls and red velvet curtains.
Performed in an intimate space, the show places the audience right into the action. The actors are close enough for viewers to make eye contact with them. For some theatergoers, those who prefer a generous distance between the performers and the audience, like a traditional theatrical stage, may not fancy the proximity.
Marty Vece, who plays Nathan Detroit, delivers an outstanding performance. As he effortlessly embodies the popular rapscallion with an authentic pizazz. His New York accent and playful mannerisms fit the good-hearted croupier’s personality to a tee. His powerful pipes own the room.
Alongside Nathan Detroit, starring as his old pal Sky Masterson, is Ryan Remark. While channeling Masterson, Remark’s sarcastic quips and comedic timing are well played. His quirky movements and understated slyness refresh this common recurring role. By sprinkling in eccentric dance steps and spouting schmooze lines, his charm disarms Sarah Brown. It’s clear he’s well suited for this role, and the catchy music favors his crooner voice.
While “Guys and Dolls” fans are familiar with Frank Sinatra’s portrayal of Nathan Detroit and Marlon Brando’s portrayal of Sky Masterson in the film adaptation, Vece and Remark’s iterations stay true to those lovable characters without depicting a blatant rip-off.
Dayna Womack executes an endearing performance of the straight-laced missionary Sergeant Sarah Brown, who finds herself drawn to the smooth-talking high roller, Sky. She expresses subtle frustrations nicely through eye rolls, folded arms, and a stiff demeanor. When she reconsiders her affections for Sky, the sharp glares she once directed at him soften into a longing, loving gaze by the end.
Adelaide, as performed by Buttercup—the Hot Box Club headliner and Nathan’s fiancée—does a stellar job portraying the humorous, headstrong and outspoken starlet. Her and her showgirl sisters are a fun, flirty and fierce triad. The saucy girl group spiced up the show with sizzling outfits and sassy dance routines. Adelaide and Nathan’s hot-and-cold love relationship effectively illustrated a complicated committed pair.
The show’s intimate setting, standout performances, and unique staging generated an engaging variation of a classic; however, there was a minor misstep that could use fine tuning. It was difficult to hear softer voices from the back row, which is likely because there appeared to be no microphones to amplify them.
The diverse casting was refreshing, as it showcased talent from various cultures, ages, and gender identities in a way that empowered equality unlike the original. While many of the jokes are outdated, the ensemble’s amusing physical comedy keeps passé one-liners from sounding stale. The vibrant vintage dresses and sleek suits were a delightful touch.
“Luck Be A Lady,” the most well-known hit in the production, was a winning musical number. This musical act featured lively choreography and animated expressions that electrified the showroom. A sea of fedoras and jazz hands are part of the fun. The city gamblers swarming Sky as he threw dice into a worn suitcase painted a picturesque scene.
Fans of Golden Age musicals, classic cinema, and feel-good rom-com musicals will enjoy how well the show preserves the essence of a revered Broadway hit.
The Show Deets
What: “Guys and Dolls” musical
When: From February 9 through February 26 on Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 5 p.m.
Where: Vegas Theatre Company, 1025 S. 1st St, Las Vegas, NV 89101
Tickets: VIP Cabaret Table Seating for two people including an alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverage for each guest is $95 plus fees, and general admission is $35 per ticket plus fees.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.theatre.vegas.
Feature image by Richard Brusky