GUYS AND DOLLS, Court Theatre. Forget the dancing crapshooters, scantily clad chorines, and neon-lit Times Square set that usually adorn revivals of this 1950 musical, concocted by tunesmith Frank Loesser, gag writer Abe Burrows, and original director George S. Kaufman from Damon Runyon’s tales of Prohibition-era lowlifes. Paring away the show’s cartoonish elements, director Charles Newell explores the serious subtext of this story of two gamblers and the women who love them.

Newell gives the romance between Nathan Detroit (Scott Parkinson), proprietor of “the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York,” and burlesque dancer Miss Adelaide (played with whiplash timing by Heidi Kettenring) a new edge of anxiety (his) and anger (hers). Meanwhile high roller Sky Masterson’s courtship of straitlaced Salvation Army sergeant Sarah Brown reveals surprising depths of lusty sexuality and nervous tenderness. Susan Moniz’s Sarah sublimates erotic longing in missionary zeal, while David New’s shy Sky is a footloose philosopher transformed by Sarah’s trust. Indeed, spiritual and emotional transformation is the driving theme of this production, which makes the showstopping “Luck Be a Lady” an urgent prayer and the rollicking “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” a genuine expression of gospel fervor. All the characters–crooks and do-gooders alike–seem lost souls in search of salvation.

Not all of Newell’s ideas work. But while some jokes fall flat, a richer human comedy emerges. Court’s inventive rethinking challenges as well as celebrates this tuneful Broadway classic.