Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Devon Michael Brown, top, is seen with members of the company in Guys and Dolls. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Cylla von Tiedemann

4 out of 4 stars

Written by
Damon Runyon
Directed by
Donna Feore
Alexis Gordon, Blythe Wilson, Evan Buliung, Sean Arbuckle
Frank Loesser
Frank Loesser
Jo Swerling, Abe Burrows
Stratford Festival
Stratford, Ontario
Runs Until
Sunday, October 29, 2017

Have you ever wanted to dive into a black-and-white picture, walk around and see what life was like in the past in colour?

Director and choreographer Donna Feore's vivid new production of Guys and Dolls takes us on that journey in its opening moments – delivering, along with her design team, an opening image that's as memorable a coup de théâtre as you've ever seen at the Stratford Festival.

The visual energy never lets up in this fully realized version of Frank Loesser's classic of American musical comedy – which even in its 1950 premiere was, in a way, diving into an imagining of the past.

Story continues below advertisement

Though ostensibly set in what was then the present, it was based on the Prohibition-era stories and sanitized streetwise New Yorkers of writer Damon Runyon and was subtitled a "Fable of Broadway."

Nowadays, Guys and Dolls seems even more clearly to be a fable about mythological creatures known as "guys" and "dolls"– and, in Feore's highly stylized yet emotionally permeable production, the performance of gender is never far from the foreground.

These characters are always talking and singing about what they want and who they are as men and women (to each other or on stage at the Hot Box Club) – but love keeps drawing zigzag lines through their pin-striped ideologies.

Guys and Dolls, of course, follows a couple of heterosexual couples. The first are your archetypal opposites who attract: Sarah Brown (Alexis Gordon) runs the Save-a-Soul mission in the Broadway district, where she tries to save the souls of gamblers and drinkers; Sky Masterson (Evan Buliung) is a rye-drinking high roller who takes a bet for a thousand bucks that he can convince Sarah to go on a date to Havana with him.

The second is "good old reliable" craps-game organizer Nathan Detroit (Sean Arbuckle) and his fiancée of 14 years, Miss Adelaide (Blythe Wilson), a burlesque performer to whom he is neither terribly good nor ever reliable.

Buliung and Gordon have that chemistry that Sky talks about right off the bat – and deliver a truly swooning romance in short order, making their inner struggles to get past their own ideas of themselves seem the biggest obstacle to a more permanent pairing.

He's the most believable Sky I've ever seen – a recognizable portrait of the aging bachelor, rather the phony player of pop culture. She, meanwhile, is an utter delight in a role that seemed tailored to both her vulnerability-filled vibrato and swell comedic chops. Gordon amusingly plays with clichés of primness and is gung-ho in her physical comedy (especially in the tipsy tussle she gets into in Havana, one of several gloriously choreographed scenes that seems to swarm the stage like a flash mob).

Story continues below advertisement

Wilson is warm and open as Miss Adelaide, with a winning smile, and almost seems to reinvent the character as smart (if not intellectual), self-aware and, in her own way, more proper than Sarah. Arbuckle is the only one of the quartet of lovers who comes off at times as trying to inhabit a type as Nathan, pushing a little too hard on the Runyonese – though his love for his lady feels real.

A third couple, you might say, are Steve Ross and Mark Uhre, as the gambling gadabouts Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet. Their vaudevillian double act could feel dated, but Ross inserts a series of sight gags that enliven his every entrance, while Uhre's flexible physicality make him ever so fun to watch.

If Feore's production has a flaw, it's that it's so crystal clear that you can see through Guys and Dolls's reputation as a timeless show to one smothered a little in an old style. There's a real set-up/punchline rhythm to Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows's book that can feel like a parody of humour now. Most of the laughter in this production actually comes from actors subverting the dad jokes slightly, through reactions to them and what sometimes seem like metatheatrical apologies for them.

The pop-culture references, meanwhile, are beginning to be difficult to penetrate. When Sky mocks Sarah by singing that she's looking for a "Scarsdale Galahad, a breakfast-eating, Brooks Brothers type," I found myself wondering: Did "guys" not eat breakfast back in the 1950s?

But, in a way, it's an illuminating question: If oatmeal once seemed effete, what aspects of the masculine and feminine today are constructed?

I'm not saying this is Guys and Dolls as if Judith Butler did it – but Feore's does seem fresh on gender matters. I've always found it odd that the musical culminates in a duet between the two main female characters who still haven't properly met at that moment, yet Marry the Man Today makes perfect sense here – almost a foreshadowing of the similarly placed, empowering friendship duet For Good in Wicked coming to Broadway 50 years down the line. The final scene that follows, meanwhile, feels like a fantasy extension of their plotting – or, perhaps, winks that the whole show has been one.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies