Theater review: ‘Guys and Dolls’ at Hendersonville Community Theatre

GAMBLE ON LOVE: The acclaimed musical is about love among saints and sinners. The stars of Guys and Dolls, from left, are Luke Haynes, Tasha Pepi, Craig Conner and Jen Heeder. Photo by Janice Guazzo

Gamble on love rather than riches, and the elusive happy ending might appear. Such is the premise of the rollicking revival of Guys and Dolls at the Hendersonville Community Theatre that runs through Sunday, June 3.

Two couples seem unlikely to find love. Still engaged after 14 years, Miss Adelaide (played by Jen Heeder) yearns to give up the life of a showgirl and settle into marriage and children with Nathan Detroit (Craig Conner). He would rather run his craps games and elude the police, all the while professing his love and promising that, one day, he and Adelaide will marry. Sky Masterson (Luke Haynes), a high-stakes gambler, finds himself in a bet with Detroit. For $1,000, Masterson has to convince the missionary Sister Sarah Brown (Tasha Pepi), who is on Broadway trying to root out sin and vice, to go to dinner with him in one of the most hedonistic cities, Havana.

In the “jungle of sin,” the Save-A-Soul Mission looks for sinners, and there are plenty. Both Sister Brown and Sky Masterson must reconsider their rigid ideas about the ideal partner. The song “I’ll Know” is tinged with irony when Pepi and Haynes demonstrate growing doubt that they know anything about love.

One of the strengths of the production is the live music performed onstage. The piano, accordion, woodwinds, trumpet and drums add immediacy to the show. All of the elements came together in Act II when Nicely Nicely Johnson (Colby Coren) and cast unleashed “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

Originally written to include the stylized language of hustlers, gangsters and conmen of the 1920s and ’30s, Guys and Dolls could be dismissed as an example of problematic sexist attitudes toward women, marriage and morality. But here’s why this production transcends such a critique: Embedded in this musical are the artistic and directorial decisions to poke fun at people who prejudge. Take, for example, the idea of a single girl as equivalent to a woman with a chronic cold. Heeder as Adelaide is subversive with a tough exterior, yet still conveys sincerity when she cries over an elusive wedding date. It’s being single, not being a sinner, that ruins the health of even the most confident showgirl.

The production also allows the audience the space to assess hidebound ideas about marriage and gender roles. Sarah and Adelaide’s duet of “Marry the Man Today” is about setting a trap called marriage. It will resonate in new ways with audiences. They sing this duet with a sly wink. No one is really fooled by the notion that marriage can change anyone, or are they? Pepi and Heeder are strong vocalists and were well-cast as opposites who actually want the same thing.

Audiences will be very satisfied with the versions of the beloved songs from this musical that garnered numerous awards and several Broadway and London revivals since it first opened in 1950. This is a chance to see a talented local cast breathe new life into such songs as “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Luck Be a Lady.”

At its heart, Guys and Dolls is a story about the redemptive power of love. The clash of religious morality and the amoral streets of New York never overshadows the lightheartedness of the story. Everyone succumbs to the desire for love and its illusions to triumph, at least until the curtain comes down.

WHAT: Guys and Dolls
WHERE: Hendersonville Community Theatre, 229 S. Washington St., Hendersonville, hendersonvilletheatre.org
WHEN: Through Sunday, June 3. Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays a 2 p.m. $15-$26

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About Patricia Furnish
Patricia Furnish is a North Carolina native who loves history, Spanish, and the visual arts. She is also a documentary filmmaker. Follow me @drpatriqua

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