Dallas — The magical time travel begins when you spot the Majestic Theatre’s iconic neon sign lighting the night on a breezy summer night in downtown Dallas.
The sold-out crowd at Friday night’s opening of Lyric Stage’s sparkling production of Frank Loesser’s Guys and Dolls, directed with precision and style by Penny Ayn Maas, snapped photos next to the marquee out front. Inside, everybody soaked in the glamour of the gilded trim and huge chandeliers of the opulent theater, built in 1925 for vaudeville shows and converted to a movie palace when film swept the nation.
Lyric Stage Founding Producer Steven Jones has produced 25 seasons of award-winning musicals in their original home in Irving, but only now is presenting Guys and Dolls in their first season at the Majestic. What a perfect venue for a musical based on Damon Runyon’s 1930’s stories, peopled with New York’s Broadway babes and street-smart gamblers of the prohibition era. At once exhilarating and nostalgic, this high-spirited production is one for the books.
From the opening bars of the overture of the 20-member orchestra, directed with style and expert timing by Sheila Vaughn Walker, we’re transported to another era peopled by glamourous gals in sequined gowns, guys in a rolling crap gang, and the fabled Mission Band marching across the stage in costume designer Drenda Lewis’s clever, richly detailed costumes. Randel Wright’s set design with bright neon marques surrounding the proscenium stage, echo the glowing sign at the entrance.
The play opens with the upbeat counterpoint and chaos of a tune called “Runyonland,” better known as “I Got the Horse Right Here,” pulling us into the betting scene that drives the show. Horse betters Nicely, Nicely, a galvanized and gravelly throated Mike Gallagher, and his buddies are looking for some gambling action. Enter Nathan Detroit, the founding daddy of the fabled floating crap game, embodied here with panache and hilarious slapstick comic energy by Andy Baldwin. Handsome high-stakes gambler Sky Masterson, played by Lyric Stage’s longtime heartthrob and terrific tenor Christopher J. Deaton, is passing through town and takes a bet that turns the plot of the show.
Nathan needs big bucks to make the crap game happen and bets Sky that he can’t get a date with Broadway missionary Sarah Brown, played by Dallas’ primo romantic musical lead Janelle Lutz. Alluring before she even reveals her pure soprano voice, Lutz is a charismatic presence in any role. Her posture-perfect Sarah moves from icy resolve to shove the attractive gambler out the door in “I’ll Know When My Love Comes Along,” to a hilariously tipsy “If I Were a Bell” when she succumbs to the delights of Bacardi and her sexy escort in a Havana nightclub.
Deaton is masculine and strong as Sky, his voice blending lovingly with Lutz’s Sarah in duets like “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” He’s all assurance and tough-guy timing in his big solo number, “Luck Be a Lady,” singing to his muse while blowing on the dice in his hand and raising a knowing eyebrow to the babes in the audience.
Catherine Carpenter Cox as Adelaide, Nathan’s impatient fiancé of 14 years, steals the show when she and her chorus of Hot Box Girls step into the stage and sing “Take Back Your Mink.” The perfect bad girl and a classy physical comedian, Cox delivers the songs and the goods without ever going over the top into melodrama. Her Adelaide is sensational, especially when teamed with Baldwin’s plaintiff Nathan in their show-stopping love song, “Sue Me.”
The huge cast of nearly 40 members moves in and out of bright dance numbers, choreographed by director Maas and executed with exuberance and style by the sharp young dancers in the male and female chorus. Lyric Stage is working with Southern Methodist University’s music and dance students, as well as young musical theater performers from Texas Christian University and other local colleges. The fresh energy and passion of these young men and women heightens the elegance of those with more experience on the stage. Great partnering, all round.
The audience is on their feet for the happy ending of this still thrilling and resilient musical about sin and redemption and love and marriage, and above all, about singing and dancing. Don’t miss it.