Thursday, September 24, 2009

Guys and Dolls House

I'm posting my Journal review of Guys and Dolls because half a sentence was edited out, and since it was an appreciation of an actor's performance, I wanted to restore it, in context.

I also neglected to mention the backstage band that for the most part did solid accompaniment without drawing attention to themselves: Laura Welch, Bobby Amirkhan, Ross Welch, Hilson Parker, Nanette Voss, Dianne Zuleger, Stephanie Douglass and Fred Belanger...

Guys and Dolls is a classic American musical, derived from Damon Runyon’s stories about gamblers, hustlers and show biz characters of 1930s New York, with outstanding songs by Frank Loesser. Its Broadway premiere lasted from 1950 to 1953, and it’s been revived there five times since-- the most recent Broadway run ended this June. The 1955 film is also a classic.

In fact, it’s so classically theatrical that it is also a perennial production of high schools and junior highs. But for theatres especially, that should be as much a warning as a promise. In other words, thinking it’s a sure thing is the type of thought that a sucker may live to regret that he ever had.

Guys and Dolls follows two interrelating stories: Nathan Detroit, trying to find a location for his permanent floating crap game while fending off the matrimonial expectations of his showgirl fiancé, Miss Adelaide, while high roller Sky Masterson works on winning his bet that he can entice the strait-laced young lady from the Mission, Sarah Brown, to accompany him to Havana.

So this particular play is now on stage at North Coast Repertory in Eureka, directed by James Read, with scenic design by Lonnie Blankenchip, choreography by Heather Sorter, costumes by Marcia Hutson and musical direction by David Powell and Dianne Zuleger.

This production has many virtues: Melissa Smith’s transcendent voice as Mission lady Sarah Brown, and her winsome, wonderfully performed Havana night club high. The strong, goosebump-raising ensemble singing, particularly of Evan Needham (as Benny Southwest), Ethan Vaughan (Rusty Charlie) and David Powell (Nicely Nicely Johnson), as well as everything Powell did, especially leading the gangster revival song, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”

Last and most consistently the best is the acting and singing of Andrea Zvalesko as Miss Adelaide. On opening night, she was funny, musical and created an appealingly real character. Daniel Kennedy had his virtues as Nathan Detroit, and Trevor Mather, evidently a late addition as Sky Masterson, played the role with a presence and a heart that conquers all, even the sometimes-elusive musical key. But it’s Zvalesko’s performance that kept the evening on track.

Aspects of the opening night performance seemed under-rehearsed, so by now the show could already be better. But some problems suggest that tapping the full magic of Guys and Dolls can be tricky. For all its high points, this production isn’t helped by some clunky and confusing staging, ragged acting, questionable choreography, unfortunate costumes and uninspiring set. Mostly missing for me was a consistent sense of time and place: what makes the New York of this era different from any Chicago or Paris (both sites of recent plays at NCRT.) The major exception was Andrea Zvalesko, who managed to keep her Betty Boopish accent even while sneezing.

North Coast Rep usually excels at these classic musicals. Though this may not be among its best, there’s potential fun and some special moments in Guys and Dolls.

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