Fedora Fever

The Shedd takes on the tacky suits of the ’50s in Guys and Dolls.

America’s fondness for the 1950s is a strange thing. Beehive hairdos and TV dinners are relics of a consumer-driven past that should have died out with Old Blue Eyes himself. But alas, some poor little girl in a poodle skirt and argyle socks, living out her great grandparents good-old days, will undoubtedly ring my doorbell this very October looking for candy.

There’s a familiarity in the ’50s that brings comfort to those seeking or remembering the Sears and Roebuck’s white-picket-fence life, and then there’s Guys and Dolls, a lavish, singing and dancing red fedora that refuses to take itself too seriously.

The Shedd’s production of Frank Loesser’s legendary musical Guys and Dolls is both familiar and absurd in all the right ways. Checkered pea-soup green and Grimace purple suits, punchy jokes, energetic dance numbers and a musical score that dares you to sing along are the meat and potatoes of director Peg Major’s truly sensory experience.

Somewhere in Brooklyn, my uncle Sonny is cringing at some of the accents attempted by mostly Pacific Northwesterners but, for the most part, the immersion into New York’s loud-talking underbelly is packed with talented actors and an ever-changing inner city backdrop (set design by Connie Huston and Jim Ralph).

The story follows two hapless gamblers, Nathan Detroit (Ron Daum) and Skye Masterson (Cloud Penble), and their unlikely dolls, Miss Adelaide of the Hot Box nightclub (Lynnea Barry) and missionary sister Sarah Brown (Shirley Andress). The result is a Benny Hill-esque montage of romantic escapades.

While Andress gently commands the stage as the singing soul-saving sister, it is Daum and Barry’s comedic chemistry that wins the audience’s attention. Barry, who sniffs and squeaks her way through an acute love sickness, is particularly infectious as the blonde and towering fiancé of 14 years.

The remaining band of idyllic missionaries and not-so-merry gamblers are also quite talented. Highly energetic and harmonious numbers backed by musical director and conductor Robert Ashens, such as “Crapshooters Dance” and “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat,” invigorate the senses post-intermission.

Scantily clad dancers kick and twirl their way through the smoky depravity, and the bold, hip-swishing blues and yellows of Havana are a sinner’s paradise.

However, a momentary lapse into the sweetly sung “More I Cannot Wish You” (Claude Offenbacher) is just enough to make the “jungle of sin” that is Guys and Dolls seem wholly genuine.

The talent and energy in Guys and Dolls makes for a classic comedic show rooted in 1950’s fedora infamy.

Guys and Dolls runs through July 29 at The Shedd Institute; tickets are $18-$38 at theshedd.org.