Interact Theatre Company's latest venture into tailored-to-fit musical theater is "Guys and Dolls," the Frank Loesser-Jo Swerling-Abe Burrows classic, based on Damon Runyon's story about denizens of Times Square's seamier environs.
Interact, long recognized as one of L.A.'s strongest small theaters for its nonmusical work, has met the challenge in the past with highly regarded pocket-sized productions of "A Little Night Music" and "Into the Woods." This small-scale version of the 1950 musical classic is more problematic, although the rewards outweigh the frustrations.
On the plus side are John Rubinstein's meticulous direction, a talented cast of widely experienced pros and musical director-pianist Brad Ellis' intimate, jazz club-like interpretation of the Loesser score, performed live with percussionist Johnny Di Gregorio and bassist Nicholas Klingenberg.
Curt Beech's picturesque set -- walls with exposed bricks, faded playbills posted on vertical insets that shift to reflect scene changes -- is well-complemented by lighting designer Emanuel Treeson's smoky late-night ambience.
Acoustics are less than ideal, however, for the intimacy and dynamism of the live music and vocals, and Rubinstein's more actorly approach sacrifices some of the show's brashness and sexy sizzle -- and A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's otherwise spiffy costume design dresses the Hot Box Girls in truly ho-hum girly show attire.
Among the cast, stage-and-screen veteran James Gleason is surprisingly miscast as Nathan Detroit, the inveterate gambler who lives for the next crap game at the expense of his long-suffering fiancee Miss Adelaide (Jane Lanier, who choreographs the show, alternates in the role with Leslie Hicks, not reviewed).
Gleason's Nathan is more juiceless observer than lovable rogue, with little evidence of chemistry between him and Lanier's delightful, deftly ditzy, well-sung Adelaide. Michael Manuel, on the other hand, at first glance too boyish for romantic high-roller Sky Masterson who falls for prim Salvation Army missionary Sarah Brown (standout Susan Hull), claims the role with dignity and assured masculinity. His clinches with Hull impart some of the much-needed spark missing elsewhere.
Dave Florek is comically pitch-perfect as gravel-voiced gangster Big Jule, and so is Carole Goldman's slow-moving, over-the-hill Hot Box Girl, although her laughs are truncated by choreography that moves her out of the audience's view too soon.
Sandy Kenyon, whose credits go back to early live TV, provides the moment of deepest emotional resonance. Endearing as Salvation Army elder Arvide Abernathy, Kenyon's solo, "More I Cannot Wish You," with its wistful theme of fleeting time, is performed with such tenderness that Hull, and no few audience members, are moved to tears.
'Guys and Dolls'
Where: Interact Theatre Company, 5215 Bakman Ave., North Hollywood
When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 3 p.m.
Ends: Oct. 26
Info: (866) 448-2849
Running time: 2 hours, 45 minutes