Atlanta Lyric stages a familiar ‘Guys and Dolls’

Despite limitations, there are many memorably delivered musical highlights.

The canned instrumental track isn’t the only generic limitation to Atlanta Lyric Theatre’s current staging of the popular 1950 musical “Guys and Dolls.” Should you presume that, by now, you’ve probably seen and heard it all before in other versions of the 72-year-old show, you would be correct.

The production features tunes by Frank Loesser (whose other Broadway hit was “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”), with a script (by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling) based on the short stories of Damon Runyon. The principal “guys” are the alternately slick and workaday New York City street gamblers Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit; the so-called “dolls” are their respective romantic interests, the virtuous missionary Sarah Brown and the brassy showgirl Miss Adelaide.

Whatever its inherently timeworn liabilities, it deserves to be acknowledged upfront that director Kayce Grogan-Wallace (who previously mounted City Springs’ “Into the Woods”) — collaborating here with music director John-Michael D’Havilland and choreographer Veronica Silk, and utilizing a 24-member ensemble — has invested the Lyric’s “Guys and Dolls” with an unabashed drive and spirit. The vocal interpretations of the songs are uniformly dexterous, as are several big dance numbers.

Credit: Robert Mitchel Owenby Photography

Credit: Robert Mitchel Owenby Photography

Even so, and with due respect to Lyric co-star Chloe Cordle, who replicates (as opposed to recreates) the role, why must Miss Adelaide, for instance, always be portrayed in exactly the same way that Vivian Blaine originated it on stage and screen, as a squeaky-voiced, scatter-brained stereotype? Would it be such a crime to bring a new or different perspective or take to the character, just once? Trying to out-Blaine Vivian Blaine is a no-win situation, more or less, and frankly boring, at this late date.

The show is overlong at nearly three hours. Grogan-Wallace might have been well-advised to make some judicious cuts, like the interminable sequence involving a largely superfluous dice game with an out-of-town gambler named Big Jule (Blake Fountain). An excursion in which Sky whisks Sarah off to Havana also feels protracted, owing to a gratuitous nightclub chorus routine that mainly only delays a pair of the couple’s subsequent love songs.

Those parts are pleasantly played by the dashing Marcello Audino (Aurora’s “Cinderella”) and the winning Jaymyria Etienne (Georgia Ensemble’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’”). Alongside Cordle’s Adelaide, Juan Carlos Unzueta (Actor’s Express’ “Little Shop of Horrors”) cuts a fun figure as Nathan. Elsewhere in comic support, Caleb Brink and Lamont J. Hill score as Nicely Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet, two of the other street hustlers. Jody Woodruff registers, too, as one of Sarah’s fellow missionaries.

The peppy and/or recognizable musical highlights are many: Brink leading the gang on “Fugue for Tinhorns (Can Do),” “The Oldest Established” and an especially rousing “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”; Cordle’s “A Bushel and a Peck” (with her Hot Box Club backup singers) and her “Sue Me” duet with Unzueta; Etienne’s “If I Were a Bell”; and Audino’s “Luck Be a Lady.”

Woodruff’s romantic ballad “More I Cannot Wish You” may be less familiar than all of those song standards, but it’s no less memorably delivered. If only there were more of that sense of freshness about the material in general. The derogatory objectification of its “dolls” isn’t the only aspect of the show that seems severely out of date and out of step in this newly enlightened day and age.


“Guys and Dolls”

Through Sunday. 8 p.m Thursday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. $38-$63. Jennie T. Anderson Theatre (at the Cobb Civic Center), 548 W. Marietta Pkwy., Marietta. 404-377-9948.

Bottom line: Absolutely nothing new, but innocuous enough.