Milwaukee Rep Stages an Electrifying “GUYS AND DOLLS”

Reviewed by: Matthew Perta

Highly Recommended

You have to hand it to Mark Clements, the rightfully acclaimed artistic director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater, for his impeccable timing and good judgment.  At a time when our country is deeply divided on a myriad of key issues ranging from immigration to health care, and when the news is inundated with horrific images of people suffering from the ravages of hurricanes and earthquakes, Clements resurrects a piece of theater dubbed the “Greatest musical of all time” by Entertainment Weekly.  That musical is Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls, which opened The Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s 64th season in its intimate Quadracci Powerhouse Sept. 23.

The plot, about two gamblers searching for love and luck from the streets of New York City to Havana, is zany and twisted, but also tells a heart-tugging tale about discovering love for the first time, about people from different worlds finding out they have more in common than they thought, and about good coming from evil.  Throw in a steady stream of high-stepping production numbers and Guys and Dolls becomes the perfect escape for audiences in these troubled times.  That was evident on opening night in the Quadracci, given the wildly enthusiastic standing ovation Clements’ sensational interpretation got from a charged-up crowd.

Guys and Dolls is Clements’ eighth musical at The Rep since his arrival in Milwaukee in 2010, and he continues to elevate musical theater in our town to exciting new heights with each show he helms.  No exception in this case, but with Guys and Dolls, Clements must share the glory with Stephen Mear, the Tony Award-nominated choreographer for show-stopping musical numbers that are simply too jaw-dropping to describe in words.  The number “Havana” in the first act is so colorful, lively and irresistible that it sticks with you well after you leave the theater.  And I wanted to jump out of my seat and join the guys on stage dancing to “Luck Be A Lady.”

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Under Clements’ tutelage, the cast of Guys and Dolls is equally stunning. Richard R. Henry displays perfect comedic timing as gambler Nathan Detroit.  Nathan’s nemesis, Sky Masterson, is also well played by Nicholas Rodriguez.  Rodriguez demonstrates an impressive vocal range with the song, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”  Emma Rose Brooks excels as the stoic mission girl Sister Sarah Brown who finds true love much to her surprise; Brown wows the audience with a lovely singing voice that she packs with powerful emotion.  Michael J. Farina brings down the house with his hilarious portrayal of Nicely-Nicely Johnson; Farina earned a lengthy round of applause after the number, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

But this version of Guys and Dolls, in my mind, belongs to one Kelley Faulkner, who steals the show as Miss Adelaide, the sassy stage performer and the long-suffering fiancé of Nathan Detroit.  She was born to play this character, which she brings to life flawlessly in the numbers “Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink.”

The cast also includes three performers with ties to Chicago: Adrian Aguilar (Benny Southstreet), Anneslyse Ahmad (Vernon/ensemble) and Alex Morales (Calvin).

All who attend this electrifying and rousing production of Guys and Dolls will have a rollicking good time.

Guys and Dolls runs through Oct. 29 in the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Quadracci Powerhouse, located at 108 E. Wells in downtown Milwaukee.  For tickets to Guys and Dolls visit www.MilwaukeeRep.comor call (414) 224-9490.