Guys and Dolls by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows Music by Frank Loesser Duluth Playhouse Directed by Kelly Grussendorf

What’s better than a night at the Duluth Playhouse watching the talented husband and wife team of Jason and Louisa Skorich playing Nathan Detroit and his squeaky upbeat squeeze, Miss Adelaide, in the Broadway musical Guys and Dolls? Two nights of watching it!


Curt Philips’ sparse set is functional while convincing us that we are guests in The Big Apple. Jim Eischen’s lighting never calls attention to itself, but shifts easily with the show’s many transitions.


Kelsie Bigs’ costumes are noteworthy for their attention to period and to the demands of quick costume changes. “Take Back Your Mink” is a tour-de-force of onstage costume changing, made even more arresting by its expert timing with the song lyrics.

 

Todd H. Photos/Duluth Playhouse

The only thing better than seeing Guys and Dolls at the Duluth Playhouse is seeing this professional performance twice.


Music Director Patrick Colvin’s orchestra fills the theater with the jazz, bustle, and glitz of post-Prohibition New York City. Paige Kohler and Rebecca Katz-Harwood give us precision, personality, and panache in every dance number. In addition to the glamorous array of classic ensembles like “Bushel and a Peck,” “Luck Be a Lady,” and “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” there is a “bushel and a peck” of hilarious one-liners like, “Never seen crap players spend so much time in a mission. Must be what they mean by ‘holy rollers,’” and, “She gave her a look that would cool off a moose at mating time.”


Director Kelly Grussendorf returns to the Twin Ports after a 17-year acting career in New York where she earned her Equity Card. “We’re attempting to make this a very professional production. I want it to be an Equity show, but the structure is just not there yet...[The Skoriches are] pros, completely. They’re every bit as good as actors in New York. They are smart enough to put their relationship aside and recreate who they are when they’re up there as Nathan and Adelaide.”


Louisa Skorich’s Adelaide so captivates us that we trust her devotion and loyalty to her real-life husband’s Nathan Detroit. He is fallible, of course, because he’s a gambler. We know it. She knows it. He knows she knows it, and we know he knows she knows it. The entire production is one deliciously long rehearsal dinner for the wedding that Adelaide finally achieves in the last number.


Cal Metts imbues Sky Masterson with a slick, practiced con-artist personality, while giving us rare moments of vulnerability that are essential for convincing us that his love for mission girl Sarah Brown (Carolyn LePine) is genuine. LePine blends strength and softness to capture Sarah’s ambivalence with deft subtlety. Her drunken scene at El Café Cubano walks a beautiful tightrope between exaggeration and understatement.


On the minus side, the spotlights are a bit jerky when following the leads during their solos. A little signage inside the Café Cubano would lead our eyes away from “Broadway Station” and “Times Square” when we’re supposed to be in Havana. And it’s too cold in the theater.


Otherwise, the difference between this show and the professional quality to which Grussendorf aspires is paper-thin. The scene changes are smooth; a few moments when the fourth wall drops surprise and delight; and every character’s stage business is fascinating. Grussendorf’s Playhouse debut promises much for the future.


Guys and Dolls runs weekends through August 2. Get your tickets ASAP because sellouts are on the rise. Just don’t forget to bring a sweater.

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