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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the June 30, 2004 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Paper Mill Review: ‘Guys & Dolls’

Here’s my marker that five will get you ten if you put your money on “Guys and Dolls” at the Paper Mill Playhouse. No matter how much you spend on tickets, those fabled Damon Runyon characters are sure to double your investment in pleasure. Those dusk to dawn denizens of Broadway have surfaced on the Jersey side of the Hudson — still looking for the same all-night crap game. Only this time the game is not only a little different, it’s a lot brighter and a great deal more fun than it possibly has a right to be.

“Guys and Dolls” is Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling, and Abe Burrows’ great homage to fabulously flamboyant flim flam men and their floozies. Although first produced a little over 50 years ago to the ever lovin’ delight of theatergoers everywhere, “Guys and Dolls” doesn’t seem to ever lose its sass or its fun. While many musicals tend to lose their luster, appeal, and popularity with future generations, “Guys and Dolls” once again validates its wit and its charm for director Stafford Arima and his outstanding company.

And what about that company recruited to handle that hilarious vernacular, the great Loesser score and Patricia Wilcox’ buoyant choreography? At first Robert Cuccioli appears almost too suave, too cool, and too reserved. But somehow by the second act he has become an irrepressibly perfect Sky Masterson. His dapper portrayal takes into account his deft way with a song, notably the wistful “My Time of Day” and the more raucous “Luck Be a Lady.” And wait until you see how much high-octane comedy Michael Mastro siphons out of the checkered-past of Nathan Detroit.

But these guys do have to contend with a pair of dolls who are not about to play second fiddle to any tinhorn, especially at those hangouts of choice, the Save-A-Soul Mission and the Hot Box nightclub. Kate Baldwin got the calling and may be the most vivaciously strong-willed mission girl Sara Brown ever to “Follow the Fold.” But Baldwin’s feisty persona also yields beautifully to the romantic demands of “If I Were a Bell” and the duet sung with Cuccioli, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”

So who’s got the role of Nathan’s ever-lovin’ ever-fianced Adelaide? Why it is none other than Karen Ziemba, the most delectably sexy bundle of big town pulchritude. Coming to “Guys and Dolls” straight from stealing what was worth stealing from the short-lived “Never Gonna Dance,” for which she won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a musical, she almost incites pandemonium with her squeaks, wiggles, bumps, and winks in those two gloriously tacky Hot Box extravaganzas “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink.” But it is Ziemba’s light-up-the-stage presence and delightfully refreshed “Adelaide’s Lament” that succeeds in bringing down the house the first time. It happens again after her duet, “Marry the Man Today,” with Baldwin, near the end of the show. When you think that this comes after the rousing 11 O’clock number, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” led by the terrifically James Cagney-fied Nicely Nicely Johnson of Robert Creighton, that’s something.

Supporting the stars are a bevy of talented actors. There are comic explosions each and every time those hilarious mugs Harry the Horse (Jeff Cyronek), Benny Southstreet (Robert DuSold), and Big Julie (Tony Cucci) hit the big street. Also a standout among the supporting players is Bob Dorian, as Arvide Abernathy, who tenderly sings the touching “More I Cannot Wish You,” and Tia Speros, who is a delight as the Mission’s General Cartwright. They contribute mightily to the general jubilation, and help make this “Guys and Dolls” the only sure-win crap shoot in the Garden State.

Director Arima has done much more than merely round up that well-loved assortment of gamblers, hustlers, and assorted sharpies for another con-job revival. He keeps the action flowing and the acting flawless. Those guys and their dolls are looking especially good in their stripes, checks, and hot summery (heavy on the orange) colors. Take it from one who saw the original, and every Broadway revival since, that everything about this “Guys and Dolls,” including Tony Walton’s re-cycled splashy expressionistic settings, Randall Klein’s whimsical costumes, and F. Mitchell Dana’s dazzling lighting has the feel of the Paper Mill Playhouse — and Broadway — at its best.

— Simon Saltzman

Guys and Dolls, through July 18, Paper Mill Playhouse, Brookside Drive, Millburn. For tickets, call 973-376-4343.

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