You don’t want to sit down when the national tour of “Guys & Dolls” is rockin’ the boat. And that’s a strong sign for the production that rolled into the Saroyan Theatre Wednesday for a two-night run.
One of my barometers for this classic show is how well a production carries off the famed number “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” The ensemble — led by an inspired Todd Berkich as Nicely-Nicely Johnson — delivers a boisterous, heartfelt, sing-to-the-rafters experience that pays homage to the roots of the number while still giving it a more contemporary vibe.
This tour falls about in the middle in terms of overall quality of the smaller road shows that come through the Saroyan. The production design is solid for a budget-conscious show in terms of sets, costumes and lighting — and it never feels cheap or rinky-dink. (Well, except for the front title scrim that came awkwardly down after the first act and at the end of the show, jiggling like a snagged window blind.) The thing that seems smallest about the show is the orchestra, which could use a beefed-up string section.
Matthew J. Taylor, as the gambler Sky Masterson, delivers top-notch vocals, his booming voice adding a thrill to “I Know” and “My Time of Day.” Another strong singer is Lauren Weinberg’s Adelaide, who delivers the trademark squeaky voice that gives “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Adelaide’s Lament” such zing. I wasn’t as impressed with the vocal consistency of Kayleen Seidl as the righteous-crusader-turned-love-struck-songbird Sarah, Her voice had a brittle quality that was distracting in “I’ll Know” and “If I Were a Bell.” but I enjoyed her acting.
Director Jeffrey B. Moss keeps the pace at breakneck speed, particularly during the first act — something you have to do when a show is this long — but that approach backfires a couple of times, such as in the tender song “More I Cannot Wish You,” sung by Arvide (John Ryan), which seems rushed and surprisingly non-sentimental. Many of the show’s laugh lines didn’t land as solidly as they should on opening night, and I think it had something to do with the torrid pacing. I enjoyed Berkich’s own high-pitched take on the Nicely character, but he rattles through some of his lines so quickly you lose some of them.
Christopher Swan, as the allergic-to-marriage Nathan Detroit, has the deftest comic timing of the four leads.
The standout of the show for me, however, is the ensemble. “The Crapshooters’ Dance” is first-rate in terms of singing and choreography. And as for the raucous, inspired, bleat-it-until-Heaven-hears “Boat” — I’ll raise my hands for that one.