by Laura Baudo Sillerman

For the record, as someone close to both The Producers and Young Frankenstein on Broadway, I have felt both anointment and annihilation from the keyboard of Ben Brantley.  What follows is not meant to question his judgment and does acknowledge his elegance as a sayer of what he thinks.  No journalist today writes with more conviction or background about her or his subject.

Nevertheless, it seems to me that in yesterday’s New York Times, Brantley misses the point of Des McAnuff’s stunning production of Guys and Dolls which opened at the Nederlander Theater last night.  The juxtaposition of video behind the period set says it all.

We have moved beyond these stories, we are here and now, looking back and if what is happening on stage is a little staged and a lot like actors as archetypes, so much the better—because bygone eras deserve the archetypal treatment.

In these times in that Times, this gorgeous, energetic, yes, courageous musical has been almost certainly doomed by Brantley’s review, despite raves from equally rigorous critics at the New Yorker and the Hartford Courant.  It’s sad.  Sad that not many people will see for themselves that Lauren Graham can step out of that career-defining role as Lorelei Gilmore, into an inhabiting of Miss Adelaide so comic in its comic strip perfection that you forget she is an icon of turn-of-the- century TV.  (And speaking of strip— she strips with the awkwardness that keeps her character’s heart of gold
beating despite the brutal life she seemingly leads.)  Sad too is that not many theatergoers will have the chance to see that Craig Bierko has climbed the hill of Harold Hill (his starring role in “The Music Man”) to reach a nuanced sky as Sky Masterson.

One thing more “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat” is worth the price of a ticket.  If anyone ever asked you what an Eleven O’Clock number was after seeing this one, you’d be able to define it to perfection.

It’s transporting to see something old brought back in a new way.  It’s important to reinterpret what has been revived as itself a couple of times already.  It’s lovely to understand that what was once relevant as one era’s representation of reality can now be important as reflection of the unreality of a zeitgeist.  Mr. Brantley faults faulting Guys and Dolls for its lack of literal attendance to Damon Runyon’s world.  He hesitates to mention the word “chemistry,” and then brings us into his laboratory to show us all the ways in which this experiment fails.  He minds the distance the opening sequence creates from the material.

Time has created that distance, Mr. Brantley.   The production I saw last night honored that effect of time. How I wish your words wouldn’t rob others of the chance to witness that.

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  • Carina March 5, 2009 at 11:35 am

    This production of Guys and Dolls must be so great! Everybody who went sad it is and I would die to see it!
    Carina, Germany