The name Damon Runyon probably means little to most today. But in the early-to-mid 20th century he was a celebrated journalist, sports columnist and author. His short stories about New York and Broadway contained such colorful characters that the term “Runyonesque” was coined to describe the type of gamblers, gangsters, hoods and show people who populated his stories and the dialect they used.
Runyon stories were frequently adapted for film, including Little Miss Marker, the movie that made Shirley Temple a star. In 1950, Runyon’s characters returned home for their Broadway musical debut in the smash hit Guys and Dolls. Sonoma Arts Live has a production of the multi-Tony Award-winning show running on the Rotary Stage in Andrews Hall through July 30.
Nathan Detroit (Skyler King) is desperate for a place to hold the oldest established permanent floating craps game in New York, but he needs a thousand dollars to book it. He believes that Sky Masterson (Andrew Smith) would be an easy mark for the money and makes him a bet he figures he can’t lose: Take Sergeant Sarah Brown (Maeve Smith), leader of the Save-a-Soul Mission, to Cuba and wine and dine her there. Between avoiding the cops, holding off some anxious gamblers and distracting Miss Adelaide (Jenny Veilleux), his matrimonial-minded fiancé of 14 years, Nathan has his hands full.
Director Larry Williams and the cast try hard, but the essence of Damon Runyon’s New York is sorely missing from this production. Most characters fail to match the color level of their costumes—nice design work by Barbara McFadden and Sylvia Gregory—and the vernacular is delivered with varying degrees of success.
Jenny Veilleux does hit the Runyonesque mark as Adelaide. She gives a full-throttled performance and delivers in both character and voice. Any scene she enters, usually with the very entertaining Hot Box Girls, energizes the show. King’s Detroit only displays about 50% of the charisma he should have, while Andrew Smith’s Masterson is completely devoid of character. He shows none of the rapscallion charm an operator of his caliber should, at least enough to make the audience believe that a reserved, religious person like Sarah Brown would fall madly in love with him. Maeve Smith is fine in what is in essence the show’s “straight” role.
A community theater taking on a large-scale musical is pretty much a crap shoot—especially these days—and, unfortunately, Sonoma Arts Live’s Guys and Dolls doesn’t provide much of a payoff.
‘Guys and Dolls’ runs through July 30 at Andrews Hall in the Sonoma Community Center, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. Thurs–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $25–$42. 707.484.4874. www.sonomaartslive.org