The eccentric underworld characters of Damon Runyon fit comfortably in the realm of musical comedy. For while they are obsessed with gambling on everything from the ponies to craps to cheesecake consumption, they are also preoccupied with romance.
At least they are in Guys and Dolls, a 1950 confection from Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows, considered one of a handful of perfect musicals. Perfect, but not foolproof, for it calls for four standout performers in the leading roles – crap game entrepreneur Nathan Detroit and his fiancée of 14 years, psychosomatic cold-prone nightclub singer Miss Adelaide, as well as high-roller Sky Masterson and the uptight Save-A-Soul Mission sergeant, Sarah Brown, that he bets he can persuade to fly with him to Cuba.
But that four-way balance is precisely what the show receives at Boca Raton’s Wick Theatre, where director Jeffrey B. Moss serves up an affectionate, lively production with admirable strength in the key roles.
In his chalk-stripe suit, beefy, bald-pated Timothy John Smith certainly looks the part of wager-on-anything Masterson. And when he starts singing such numbers as “I’ll Know” or “My Time of Day” with his creamy baritone, he completely fulfills the role’s requirements. Similarly, Aaron Bower is quite convincing as stick-in-the-mud Sarah, but fly her to Havana and ply her with a few dulce de leche cocktails and she loosens up with abandon.
As the secondary couple, easily agitated Wayne LeGette and kewpie doll Lauren Weinberg are more broadly comic as Nathan and Adelaide, yet grounded enough in reality to have us rooting for their eventual nuptial happiness. Weinberg is adorable in her two Hot Box Revue numbers and nothing to sneeze at in her solo spot, “Adelaide’s Lament.”
Following a score of songs that have become pop standards (“Bushel and a Peck,” “If I Were a Bell,” “Luck Be a Lady”), Guys and Dolls has one of the musical theater’s most rousing 11 o’clock numbers, the holy roller gospel tune, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” At the Wick, it is a genuine showstopper, thanks to the take-no-prisoners rendition by portly, rubber-faced Shaun Rice.
On the debit side of the ledger, Randel Wright’s backdrops and scenery seems awfully drab for a musical comedy and the muted, prerecorded musical tracks fail to give Loesser’s tunes sufficiently brassy pop.
Nevertheless, the Wick production gives plenty of evidence why Guys and Dolls is held in such high regard and its quartet of leading performers cements the deal.
GUYS AND DOLLS, Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through April 9. $75-$80. 561-995-2333.