The Scene

Drury Lane’s ‘Guys and Dolls’ a good bet

Musical shines on Oakbrook Terrace stage to launch season

Pepe Nufrio and Erica Stephan as Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown in "Guys and Dolls" 2024 Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace - Photo Credit Brett Beiner.

Sarah Brown and Sky Masterson. Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide. The success of many productions of the 1950 Broadway musical “Guys and Dolls” is based on whether the audience invests itself in the relationships of these two couples: Can we envision them living happily ever after?

For over seven decades, audiences who’ve loved the fun of this show consistently say, “Yes, we can see that happening.” And theatergoers won’t be disappointed by the fresh production at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, kicking off its new season with this show under the leadership of Tony-nominated director and choreographer Dan Knechtges and casting director Matthew D. Carney. You can plan on a great date night, because this “Guys and Dolls” – about gamblers and the women who tolerate and/or love them – is a good bet.

At the 1951 Tony Awards, “Guys and Dolls” swept the major categories for musicals: Best Musical, Best Director, Best Choreographer, Best Actor and Best Featured Actress. The acting awards were given to the actor playing high-rolling gambler Sky Masterson (Robert Alda) and the actress playing the straitlaced, Broadway Save-a-Soul Mission evangelist Sarah Brown (Isabel Bigley). Sarah’s the one that Sky – because of a $1,000 bet with Nathan – needs to convince to go to Havana with him for an evening.

At Drury Lane, Pepe Nufrio and Erica Stephan masterfully take on the initially-far-apart Masterson and Brown roles, their chemistry evident from their first duet (“I’ll Know”) to the romantic Act I closer, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”

Sarah hasn’t had time to think about love, because her low-performing branch of the mission is in danger of being shut down by General Matilda B. Cartwright (the talented Heidi Kettenring in a role made infinitely more fun because she’s playing it). But whether Sarah is frustrated or happy, Stephan’s beautiful singing voice excels, including the solo where alcoholic beverages have loosened her up (“If I Were a Bell”).

Unlike Sarah and Sky, Nathan (Jackson Evans) and Miss Adelaide (Alanna Lovely) aren’t a new couple. Nathan, the respected gambler who pockets a portion of the proceeds from secret craps games he holds in New York City, has been engaged to nightclub singer Miss Adelaide for quite a while. A whopping 14 years, to be precise. He’s been trying to keep his gambling activities secret from Adelaide. Meanwhile, she’s been suffering with psychosomatic illness symptoms because of the secrets and the never-ending engagement. Adelaide’s also been writing letters to her mother that stretch the truth. A lot. To be specific, she’s told her mother she’s married to Nathan already, and they have not one or two, but rather five (!) children.

Alanna Lovely (Miss Adelaide) and Company of "Guys and Dolls" 2024 Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace - Photo Credit Brett Beiner.

Lovely and the other actresses whose characters sing at the nightclub get the full benefit of costume designer Leon Dobkowski’s expertise – decked out in yellow-and-green cornfield outfits for “A Bushel and a Peck” and sparkly jewelry and furs for the Act II opening number (“Take Back Your Mink”). Lovely’s entertaining performance of “Adelaide’s Lament” about the possibly psychosomatic symptoms (“just from stalling, and stalling, and stalling the wedding trip, a person can develop la grippe”) most assuredly will make you smile.

Nathan’s main plot line – in addition to his avoidance of marriage and his bet with Sky – is the inability to find a place to hold a high-stakes craps game for gamblers like Harry the Horse (Jordan Anthony Arredondo) and Big Jule (KC McNeil), whose intimidating size and gun holster lend more urgency to Nathan’s search for a site. There’s one place that might be available, but only if Nathan can pay the owner $1,000 in advance (the impetus for the Nathan-Sky wager). Evans’ Nathan is a character that made me feel extremely sorry for Adelaide, but his portrayal gradually won me over, especially as Nathan’s true feelings for his long-term fiancée emerge in the Act II duet “Sue Me.”

"Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" -  Company of "Guys and Dolls" 2024 Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace - Photo Credit Brett Beiner.

Other musical highlights include “Fugue for Tinhorns” (in which three gamblers played by Nkrumah Gatling, Christopher Llewyn Ramirez and Spencer Davis Milford justify betting on three different horses), “The Oldest Established” (the entire male ensemble singing the praises of Nathan), “More I Cannot Wish You” (sweet advice given to Sarah by her mission colleague – and grandfather – Arvide Abernathy [the always amazing Gene Weygandt]), “Luck Be a Lady” (Sky and the gamblers preparing for one crucial roll of the dice) and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” “Sit Down” is a real rouser of a number in which Gatling as Nicely-Nicely Johnson relates a dream that gets the gamblers and Save-a-Soul Mission workers equally excited. The six-member orchestra, led by conductor Chris Sargent, sounds like a much larger group, providing excellent support on all songs.

Lighting effects (like the neon signs atop the mission) provide some much-appreciated extra color for the stage, which uses the same Broadway backdrop for most scenes that aren’t in Havana or the sewer (no, that’s not a typo). The set is fairly minimal, but that not only helps with quick scene changes, it also frees up a good portion of the stage for the excellent choreography displayed throughout the show.

In summary, take a chance and catch a matinee or evening performance of “Guys and Dolls.” Will you enjoy it? The odds are in your favor.

• Paul Lockwood is a communications consultant at Health Care Service Corporation in Chicago, as well as a local theater actor, singer, Grace Lutheran Church (Woodstock) and Toastmasters member, columnist and past president of TownSquare Players. He and his wife have lived in Woodstock for over 23 years.


• WHAT: “Guys and Dolls”

• WHERE: Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace

• WHEN: Wednesday through Sunday until June 9

• INFORMATION: 630-530-0111,