Where Have All the Characters Gone?

guys-dollsThe current relic on 41st Street is the kind of production that is killing the Broadway musical, with film and television stars trying their unsteady hands at reviving a classic that would have stood a better chance if it had been left alone. The audience couldn't get out of the theater quickly enough after the curtain came down on this uninspired production of Guys and Dolls, which is about as cheery as yesterday's Wall Street Journal.

Blame goes in no small part to the two "stars" who are theoretically the draws to this punishing collection of humorless yuk-yuks.Lauren Graham's Adelaide reminds one of high school productions one is bound to have seen of this musical, with the exception that the high school Adelaides are often far superior. With the minimum of effort that Graham applies in her performance, you can only imagine the damage she could have done if she had bothered to break a sweat. After you've suffered through her eye-rolling cuteness, it is time to watch her shoot for sexy ,which is about as fun as watching your own mother make an embarrassing attempt at being a sultry nightclub singer, only more disturbing. Oliver Platt is less offensive than Graham, but equally expectant of the audience's love; he pauses for applause at his entrance. Graham and Platt have no chemistry between them, and both come up short on comic abilities.

Next to take the stand for the slow murder of Frank Loesser is director Des McAnuff. The verdict: hold on to your Tonys Des -- cause you ain't winning one this time around. McAnuff goes for every cliché in the book, from having Harry the Horse whinny, to making Nicely-Nicely wear a fat suit and constantly carry snacks, to tacking a gospel ending onto "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat." He seems to have put his faith in a hackneyed set of blinking lights that are more interesting than the performances, and that's not to say that the blinking lights were good, hitting the audience over the head with the moments where they're suppose to laugh and clap. Aside from making a solid argument for the dated nature of this musical and maintaining a fast pace, McAnuff does nothing with the material.

Mary Testa is largely alone in successfully finding contemporary humor in the script, and seeing her only makes one miss the fun of Xanadu, where she was far better employed. Craig Bierko lands a few well-delivered jokes with his Sky Masterson and joins with Kate Jennings Grant (Sarah Brown) to create an enjoyable romance.

The questions resulting from this production are, where have all the character actors gone and how can anyone even think of mounting Guys and Dolls when you don't have actors who can humanize these cartoons and bring them to life? Tituss Burgess does well in demonstrating this point with his boring-boring Nicely-Nicely Johnson. Weak from the very beginning, who could possibly care if he can sing by the time he gets to his big closing number? We want funny men, but where are they? Where are today's Zero Mostel, Bert Lahr, Robert Morse, or Stubby Kaye? One place we know they aren't is in this production.

Audiences don't want to politely applaud while wondering why they just blew a hundred and twenty-five dollars. They come to a show like Guys and Dolls to see the kind of characters that make depressing times momentarily carefree. Flashing lights and lame, video-screen visuals don't clear away the bad-time blues, carefully crafted clowns do. Sadly it is the audience that walks away from this production feeling the clown for having spent their time and money on a cheap replica that doesn't hold a candle to the brilliance of the original. - C. Jefferson Thom


Mr. Thom lives in New York City and walks dogs, writes plays, and loves dissecting pop culture.