Sure Bet: University of Michigan's production of "Guys and Dolls" can't miss


University of Michigan's production of "Guys and Dolls"

Photo via University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's Facebook.

Frank Loesser’s "Fugue for Tinhorns" sets the theme for Guys and Dolls with a funny, sweet mingling of voices in search of a winner: “I’ve got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere, can do, the horse can do.”

It’s all about the bet, on the horse race, the football game and, especially, the game of love, not to overlook the crap game. And here’s a sure bet, audiences will love the University of Michigan’s production of the ever-popular Guys and Dolls, October 6-8 and 12-15 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. 

Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Loesser and book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, brings Damon Runyon’s streetwise tough guys to life with memorable songs, sharp dancing, a unique Broadway language, and the bright lights of the big city.

The nervous, jumpy Nathan Detroit is trying to find a place to keep the action going at the “oldest established floating crap game” in New York. Meanwhile, this revered dice entrepreneur is anxious because his fiancee of 14 years is ready to get married. And Adelaide has her laments

Detroit wants to involve the more uptown and much slickster Sky Masterson in his quest for a dice venue. The Save a Soul Mission is trying to drum up souls to save under the somewhat pinched leadership of the attractive Sarah Brown. The usually blasé Masterson falls for the pretty soul saver.

Out of this Loesser created some of his best and most varied music and lyrics that range from deeply romantic to hilariously funny. What a feast for a talented U-M cast with a longing interest in Broadway.

Chad Marge gives Nathan hunched shoulders, bug eyes, and that necessary twitch. His musical moment comes in a duet with his love Adelaide, but his main role is to keep things moving.

Cate Leonard as Adelaide steals the show with every scene she’s in. This is a dame with some serious laments. Leonard sings and dances with her backup quartet at the Hot Box, serving up “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink.” But the real highlight is Leonard’s beautiful, nasal whine on “Adelaide’s Lament.” Her attempts to drag Nathan to the altar are enough to give a “poison” a cold. Leonard is funny and sexy, and she gives Adelaide just the right amount of insight to belie the “dumb blonde” stereotype.

Adelaide’s opposite is Sarah Brown. Alex Humphreys brings a soaring operatic voice to the determined and conflicted soul saver. Her big moment comes in a scene where she is taken away to Havana and sings out “If I Were a Bell” in bell-like triumph. Humphreys loses the closed, uptight Sarah and sizzles as a woman in love with a “dangerous” man.

That man in Sky Masterson—and Diego Rodriguez has it down pat. His Masterson is suave, fearless, and a very sharp dresser, but when he sees Sarah, he's seriously thrown for a loop. Rodriguez has a fine singing voice that provides contrast to Humphreys’ soaring vocals on the duet “My Time of Day/I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” But Rodriguez’s big moment, of course, is at the crapshoot showdown, where he takes the dice and hopes that “Luck Be a Lady.” He is a smooth operator. 

University of Michigan's production of "Guys and Dolls"

Photo via University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance's Facebook.

This is a show that has a large cast, giving many performers a chance to shine, and in this production they do.

Davey Burton Midkiff does not have the girth of Stubby Kaye, who played Nicely-Nicely Johnson in the original staging and in the movie version, but Midkiff does have the wiseguy attitude, the Runyon New York voice, and the energy. Nicely-Nicely is one of Nathan’s guys. Midkiff leads the “Fugue for Tinhorns” and does a lively duet with Ethan Van Slyke as Benny Southstreet on the title song. He has his biggest moment when he gives testimony at the mission with a rollicking “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat."

In a quieter moment, Lleyton Allen as Sarah’s gentle second in command sings the reassuring “More I Can Not Wish You.” His quiet demeanor and soft voice capture the character well.

This is not just a singing and clowning show. This is a dance show. Choreographer Mara Newberry Greer has created a fluid, energetic dance that weaves through the show, reaching a peak in the "Crapshooters' Ballet." The male dancers with Cole Newburg as dance captain give a rousing performance, especially considering the stage limitations of the Mendelssohn. The women dancers at the Hot Box are also brisk, sharply in step with Adelaide—and funny, too. 

Director Richard R. Henry keeps the staging simple to fit the tight space of the Mendelssohn. He has a fine cast to work with and everything worked smoothly on the first night. He has the atmosphere, the language, and the humor at the forefront. 

Set designer Tim Brown uses neon signs that remind us we’re back in the 1950s, simple and easily changeable suggestions of action on Broadway, the bustle of the Hot Box, a Latin dance club in Havana, or the simple Save a Soul, inside or out. 

The orchestra under Jason DeBord takes its place at the back of the stage, always in sight. The orchestra is excellent. 

Roll the dice, you can’t lose.

Hugh Gallagher has written theater and film reviews over a 40-year newspaper career and was most recently the managing editor of the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers in suburban Detroit.

The University of Michigan’s Department of Musical Theatre’s production of "Guys and Dolls" is at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre, 911 North University Avenue, Ann Arbor. It continues at 8 pm on October 6-7 and 13-14, at 7:30 pm on October 12, and at 2 pm on October 8 and 15. For tickets and more info, visit, call 734-764-2538 or go to the Michigan League, Monday-Friday 10 am to 5 pm.