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Stray Dog's Guys and Dolls

Sara Rae Womack in "Guys and Dolls."

Photo by Justin Been

Nathan Detroit (Kevin O’Brien) and Sky Masterson (Jayde Mitchell) were made for musical comedy. Detroit is a cash-strapped hustler whose traveling craps game is in danger of extinction. Masterson is a gambler who lives to make outrageously eccentric bets. What they have in common is zero interest in holding down a nine-to-five job.

What they don’t count on is changing each other’s lives.

“Guys and Dolls,” the hugely entertaining musical running through Aug. 24 in a Stray Dog Theatre production, is the essence of old-school cool. Its vision of a New York bursting with gamblers and gangsters in the aftermath of World War II is the kind of cherished myth that lends itself to showbiz exuberance.

The plot turns on a bet that Detroit makes with Masterson, involving straitlaced missionary Sarah Brown (Angela Bubash) and a trip to Havana. Detroit must also deal with the entreaties and insecurities of his longtime, marriage-minded girlfriend, Miss Adelaide (Sara Rae Womack). Complications — romantic and otherwise — ensue.

With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, “Guys and Dolls” boasts terrific performances by a charismatic cast and imaginative direction by Gary F. Bell. Based on stories by Damon Runyon, the show is drenched in nostalgia for a Big Apple that probably never quite existed but has lost none of its storied appeal.

The eminently hummable songs — among them “If I Were a Bell,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” and, of course, “Luck Be a Lady” — represent Broadway at its best.

Recently, “Guys and Dolls” was staged at the Muny in a production that took splendid advantage of the venue’s state-of-the-art technology. Although Stray Dog’s approach to the show is nowhere near as flashy, it’s just as memorable and far more intimate. And it’s a good bet that theatergoers will walk away smiling.

Calvin Wilson is theater critic for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.