The local 2019-2020 season officially began on Friday with "Guys and Dolls," which was not only Blackfriars Theatre's opening musical but also the official kick-off to its 70th anniversary celebration. Attendees of Friday night's sold-out show enjoyed a champagne toast with the full cast and crew prior to the show and a touching speech from Artistic Director Danny Hoskins, who thanked Blackfriars patrons and casts of both the past and present.
"Guys and Dolls" is a show most -- if not all -- dedicated theatregoers have seen in their lifetime, but it's usually only performed locally on a high school stage. With catchy numbers, memorable characters, and a zany storyline, the 1950 Broadway classic is a surefire pick for ticket sales and a good ol' nostalgia trip.
The plot follows a bet between NYC gamblers Nathan Detroit (Scott Shriner) and Sky Masterson (J. Simmons). Detroit needs to front money for a craps game, so he bets Masterson he can't get just any "dame" to fly to Havana with him the next evening. The dame Detroit nominates is Sergeant Sarah Brown (Lani Toyama Hoskins), the head of the neighborhood Save-A-Soul Mission. But of course, Detroit has dame problems of his own: his fiancée of 14 years, Miss Adelaide (Laura Jean Diekmann) wants to be married.
Hoskins directs a larger than usual cast of 19 in this full-length musical, and, to his credit, has chosen colorblind casting. At just over two-and-a-half hours' run time with one intermission, it's a whirlwind journey through 18 musical pieces, including well-known tunes "Adelaide's Lament," "Luck Be a Lady," and "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat." Staging a musical of this stature on any stage is a challenge, but Blackfriars does an admirable job making the most of its space, stowing the six-piece band upstairs and leaving plenty of open stage area in front of Tyler Pacilio's innovative, colorful set design. Whimsical mid-century costumes by Diane Spacher and bright, bouffant wig design by Laura Fox add to a flashy, fun aesthetic.
While the cast is consistently impressive throughout the production, a few cast members really shine. As the jumpy, streetwise Detroit, Shrine maintains both the energy in many of the scenes and an impressive Long Island accent. As the 14-year lovers, he and Diekmann have a comedic chemistry that elicits plenty of laughs from the audience. As suave, successful gambler Masterson, Simmons (a familiar face at Blackfriars in the past year) is magnetic, his stage presence elevating each scene he appears in, and portrays a convincing pursuit of Sarah Brown. And as Brown, Toyama Hoskins is the ideal vocal match, her soprano soaring through challenging numbers like "I'll Know" and "I've Never Been in Love Before."
But the real show stopper of the night came from Alvis Green Jr., who plays Nicely Nicely Johnson. Toward the end of act two, Green -- an extraordinarily talented tenor -- delivers a foot-stomping version of "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," alongside dynamic choreography by Mandy Hassett. The entire crew on stage seemed to be having a great time, and if the cheers and whistles during Green's bow later were any indication, he was an audience favorite.
Overall, "Guys and Dolls" is an enjoyable, albeit predictable, night out at the theater. There's always a place for classics in each theater season, and a hat tip to the past 70 years of Blackfriars Theatre with a musical from the era or its origin feels like a fitting choice.