The Muny opened its 101st season with Frank Loesser’s musical comedy classic “Guys and Dolls,” with book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, and it’s hard to imagine a more appropriate selection. Bursting with memorable songs, plenty of laughs, a lot of love and more than a little luck, the show is a proven, crowd-pleasing favorite.

Small-time hustler Nathan Detroit organizes and runs the dice games in New York City, attracting local and out-of-town players. Though his long-suffering fiancée Adelaide thinks he’s given up gambling, the local cops know better. As a result, they are always chasing him down and he is always looking for a new location to set up a game. In an effort to secure cash to reserve a spot for an upcoming game, Detroit bets the always-confident Sky Masterson that he can’t convince missionary Sarah Brown to fly with him to Havana for lunch. The set up is simple but, as with any game of chance, the outcome is uncertain.

all ‘Guys and Dolls’ photos by Philip Hamer

Such is the complicated web of love spun by “Guys and Dolls.” The girls all want to get married and settle down while the boys are still looking for the thrill of a perfect roll and big payoff. The plot is simple enough and the outcome fairly assured, but getting to that happy ending doesn’t always feel guaranteed in the spirited musical. The result is a fun romp that benefits from strong, focused direction by Gordon Greenburg and a well-tuned orchestra under the direction of Brad Haak.

Ben Davis, as Sky Masterson, is smooth as silk, with a buttery baritone that matches his slippery character. But he’s met his match in the upstanding Sarah Brown, played with a flawless voice and softening countenance by Brittany Bradford. Each is surprised by the intensity of their attraction for the other, and though we know they will end up together, it’s still fun to watch them spar.

Jordan Gelber gives Detroit a good natured but often bumbling persona that’s immediately endearing, even when he’s up to mischief. Gelber’s voice has an everyman quality that’s pleasing, but not perfect, and he and Kendra Kassebaum, as the ditzy but genuine Miss Adelaide, sparkle even when they’re quarreling. The two are gifted comedians, and it’s just what the roles require to keep the audience rolling in laughter yet still rooting for the long-time couple to finally tie the know.

Orville Mendoza, as Nicely Nicely Johnson, and Jared Gertner, as Benny Southstreet, are laughably inept, but eager and Ken Paige brings natural gravitas and a resonant voice to Arvide Abernathy. Brendan Averett is imposing as Big Jule, Kevin Cahoon whinnies through several humorous quips as Harry the Horse and Zoe Vonder Haar belts out commands and big notes as the skeptical General Cartwright. Finally, the ensemble is in fine voice as they high step through the big numbers and add to the general hilarity and chaos.

Snappy, hummable songs are dotted throughout the mostly up-tempo show, from the opening medley that sets the tone to the plaintive and woebegone “Adelaide’s Lament” to the rambunctious “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” and titular “Guys and Dolls.” And the songs you may already know – the plucky “A Bushel and a Peck,” freewheeling “If I Were a Bell” and ecstatic “Luck Be A Lady” – shine with a new polish. Lorin Latarro and Patrick O’Neill’s choreography finds the perfect complementary moves for each song, referencing the 1940s and 50s while adding in some acrobatic moves and contemporary twists that enhance the lively, spirited mood.

The Muny’s new stage and orchestra pit frame the entire production while providing clear sound with only a few glitches, and the video projections are better integrated than I remember from previous years. Paul Tate dePoo III provides a layered and visually interesting set design that’s quickly moved in and out of place and Tristan Raines’ costumes set the period with a color palette that emphasizes the optimistic. Lighting designer Rob Denton, sound designers John Shivers and David Patridge and video designer Nathan W. Scheuer add the finishing touches with a flourish. 

“Guys and Dolls” is a favorite musical for many theatergoers because it is a near-perfect combination of song and story filled with memorable characters that feel instantly familiar and keep audiences laughing from the opening number to the curtain call. The Muny’s current production takes the show up a notch in a production that hits all the right notes and thoroughly entertains. 

At The Muny through June 16. For more information call (314) 361-1900 or visit www.muny.org.

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