Cary Players’ Rendition of Guys and Dolls Has All the Pieces, But Not Enough Glue

It is said that you cannot get service that is simultaneously good, fast, and cheap.

You can have it good and fast, but it will not be cheap.
You can have it fast and cheap, but it will not be good.
You can have it good and cheap, but it will not be fast.

During Friday’s opening-night performance of Cary Players’ Guys and Dolls at the Cary Arts Center, I saw one — sometimes two — production elements presented successfully in any given scene. Director-choreographer Nancy Gardner Rich sometimes provided dynamic and peppy staging. Set designer Ian Robson, costume designer Rachel McKay, and lighting designer Michael Lefler sometimes provided a series of colorful and functional elements. The onstage cast of 26 sometimes provided animated and precise comedic and vocal performances. But staging, design, and performance were never synthesized simultaneously.

The opening number, “Fugue for Tinhorns,” was staged interestingly — each ensemble member had some individual business. The set and costuming were in sync, and the vocals were tight. But the leading trio suffered from a lack of confident energy.

The big production number “Havana” benefited from both Lauren Bamford’s adorably drunk Sarah Brown and from a cohesive design palate. However, disorderly stage traffic made it difficult determine the scene’s focus.

Luck Be a Lady” was lit with evocative greens and shadows of sewer grates above, with underground plumbing incorporated into the set. Nancy Rich has staged the song, and its preceding scene, with a great deal of energy. Sadly, the cast never harnessed that energy; and the song lacks the requisite punch.

One of the most enjoyable numbers was “Marry the Man Today,” thanks to the accurate harmonies of the women’s ensemble and the robust vocals of Lauren Bamford and Elizabeth Quesada, who gave a commendable performance as Miss Adelaide. This scene was staged simply, in front of the main curtain, with limited choreography — allowing the performers to work unrestrained.

Additional success came with “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” during which the elements finally synthesized: Michael Lefler’s dreamlike lighting, Tony Hefner’s charming performance as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, and Nancy Rich’s most precise and lively choreography. Everyone, for this one number, seemed to embrace the inflated nature of the material and it made for exciting theater.

Ted Willis nailed the role of Nathan Detroit with ease, creating a likeable scoundrel. His vocal talent and gift for double-takes made him a pleasure to watch. Stan Williams found the sweetness of Sky Masterson, but not the toughness needed for counterbalance.

Cary Players' presentation of <em>Guys and Dolls</em> stars (from left) Michael P. Muhlada as Rusty Charlie, Daryl Ray Carliles as Benny Southstreet, and Tony Hefner as Nicely-Nicely Johnson
Cary Players’ presentation of Guys and Dolls stars (from left) Michael P. Muhlada as Rusty Charlie, Daryl Ray Carliles as Benny Southstreet, and Tony Hefner as Nicely-Nicely Johnson

This production lacked the over-the-top cartoonish presentation it needed to keep the well-worn material alive. Only a handful of cast members did much to sound Runyonesque. Ted Willis and Elizabeth Quesada kept things buoyant by eschewing subtlety altogether, and the show was better for it.

Appropriately exaggerated interpretations came from David Adams as Harry the Horse and Troy Jelley as mega-mobster Big Jule, who knew precisely what kind of show they were in — a 1950s gangster comedy. With no real dialogue to speak of, ensemble members Dan Hawkins, Matthew Harvey, and Shannon Plummer-White brought much-needed color to the proceedings.

Musically, the production was on mostly solid ground. The harmonies were tight and the diction was usually clear. Sound designer Bob Kulow delivered a respectable live microphone mix, supporting the vocals without forcing the entire show through the speakers. The pit band, led by musical director Darylene Hecht, did its best work when arrangements were less complex.

Even though Friday night’s performance was met with much laughter and applause from its audience, I know that Cary Players can do better work. Though it has the necessary individual pieces: a handful of memorable performances, some engaging design choices, a few fun production numbers, Cary Players is unable to glue them all together.

Shannon Plummer-White and Charles Robson star as Ruth and Calvin
Shannon Plummer-White and Charles Robson star as Ruth and Calvin

SECOND OPINION: Oct. 1st Raleigh, NC Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle:

The Cary Players present GUYS AND DOLLS at 3 p.m. Oct. 1, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 5-7, and 3 p.m. Oct. 8 at the Cary Arts Center, 101 Dry Ave., Cary, North Carolina 27511. TICKETS: $20 in advance ($18 students and seniors), except $17 per person for groups of 10 or more and all tickets $20 at the door the day of the show.

BOX OFFICE: 800-514-3849 or

GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): Purchase in person at the Cary Downtown Theatre Box Office, 122 E. Chatham St. Cary, NC 27511, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.

SHOW: and



VENUE:,, and


NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8th, performance.


“The Idyll of Sarah Brown” (1933 short story): (Wikipedia).

Damon Runyon (author and journalist, 1880-1946): (Internet Broadway Database) and (Wikipedia).

Guys and Dolls: A Musical Fable of Broadway (1950 Broadway and 1953 West End musical): (official website for the current London production), (Music Theatre International), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Study Guides: (Music Theatre International) and (Utah Shakespeare Festival).

Frank Loesser (composer and lyricist, 1910-69): (official website), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Jo Swerling (librettist, 1897-1964): (Internet Broadway Database) and (Wikipedia).

Abe Burrows (librettist, 1910-85): (Masterworks Broadway), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Nancy Gardner Rich (Raleigh, NC-based director and choreographer ): (Facebook page).


Dustin K. Britt, a Triangle native, is an actor and director. He holds an M.A.Ed. in Special Education from East Carolina University and teaches locally. Click here to read his reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment. You can find him on Facebook as Dustin K. Britt and via his movie blog Hold the Popcorn.