Don’t like ‘Guys and Dolls’? Sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat

The plotline of “Guys and Dolls” is somewhat weak: a bunch of guys looking for a place to gamble out of sight of constantly hovering law enforcement.

Seriously, aren’t there any real criminals out there? Nathan Detroit (played by Beef & Boards regular Eddie Curry) makes a bet with Sky Masterson (played by Timothy Ford) that Masterson can’t charm a girl into having dinner with him. Masterson wins the bet, but it’s hard to believe that the character of Sarah Brown (played by Betsy Norton), who has heretofore dedicated her life to the service of the Lord, would suddenly jump on a plane and fly to Havana with a known miscreant like gambler Sky Masterson.

Nevertheless, Beef & Boards’ production of “Guys and Dolls” takes the stage with energy and a huge splash of colorful eye-candy with gamblers clad in vibrant suits and ties as Nathan Detroit and his gang appear in orange, blue, green and red stripes. Kudos for the nice touch of costuming with both Nathan and his girlfriend of 14 years, Adelaide (played by Deb Wims), in purple.

The cast of “Guys and Dolls” never misses an opportunity to inject comedy, for example: the height difference between Nathan Detroit and Benny Southstreet (played by masterful physical comedian Jeff Stockberger). Curry yanks on Stockberger’s tie to bring him down to eye-level for a little heart-to-heart conversation.

A bit of inside humor was an exchange between tough cop Lt. Brannigan and gang member Big Jule. Lt. Brannigan gets face-to-face with Big Jule and sneers, “Your face looks familiar …” Well of course it does! Brannigan is played by Beef & Boards regular Dan Scharborough and Big Jule is played by his son, Peter.

There is no doubt that the small stage at Beef & Boards presents production challenges, but as usual, the technical aspects of the show are tight and professional.

The staging challenge presented when Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown jet down to Havana for dinner was solved by a small toy plane suspended on a wire “flying” from one side of the stage to another. On the return trip from Havana, we see the plane again, but this time, flying backward — a cheesy — but humorous — effect that got laughs.

Beef & Boards also never hesitates to bring the show directly to the audience with its use of the aisles, as The Salvation Army band marched down the steps on the way to the stage.

The argument can be made that “Guys and Dolls” is one of the tired, old war-horses of musical theater. Its relatively tame content allows it to be done (again and again) by high school drama departments, but Beef & Boards’ flashy production values give it the freshness of professionalism.

The staging, the costuming and the vocals were wonderful. The only weak spot in evidence was the choreography. In the theater, the audience is often called upon to engage in the willing suspension of disbelief, but high-kicking, pirouetting, ballet-dancing gamblers and tough guys seemed quite out of character.

“Guys and Dolls” has a couple of memorable songs in “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” and the classic Frank Sinatra favorite, “Luck Be a Lady.” The audience is bound to come away from the show humming one or the other.

A highlight of the production, however, was Wims’ and Curry’s duet for the definitely un-hummable “Sue Me.”

It’s a shame this number doesn’t come earlier in the show because it defines Adelaide’s character: her trust, patience and frustrations in having waited 14 years for Nathan Detroit to marry her.

Keeping to character with the wordy lyrics and the ever-changing tempo, particularly for Adelaide’s part of the song, has to be challenging, but Wims delivered admirably and earned the applause following the number.

“Guys and Dolls” plays through May 15 at Beef & Boards dinner theater. Visit beefandboards.com for show times and ticketing information.

If you go

 “Guys and Dolls” plays now  through May 15 at Beef & Boards Dinner Theatre,  9301 Michigan Road, Indianapolis. Visit beefandboards.com for more information.

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Christine Schaefer is arts editor and editorial assistant at the Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3222 or cschaefer@greenfieldreporter.com.