Sunday, May 3, 2015

Theater Review: Guys and Dolls -- Goodspeed

The cast of Goodspeed Musicals’ Guys and Dolls. Photo: Diane Sobolewski

We Love the Score for This Musical a Bushel and a Peck; the Story Needs Updates From Oldest Established....
By Lauren Yarger
The oft-produced Guys and Dolls is getting a solid, if lightning-speed-paced production at Goodspeed.

The Frank Loesser (music and lyrics) show has been produced by every theater company and high school drama group in America, it seems, since it won the Tony for Best Musical back in 1950. The story of a floating craps game and a bet to win the heart of a woman is kind of dated -- especially with regards to its treatment of women -- so why do audiences keep filling seats? It's probably the score.

The bouncy and moving tunes that include "Fugue for Tinhorns", "The Oldest Established," "I'll Know," "A Bushel and a Peck," "I've Never Been in Love Before," "Take Back Your Mink," "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" and "Luck Be a Lady," are the show's backbone and worth the price of the ticket. The score is given nice treatment here by an eight-person orchestra under the musical direction of Michael O'Flaherty (in his 24th season as Goodspeed’s resident music director) with orchestrations by Dan DeLange.

This production features storytelling through excellent choreography by Alex Sanchez. The pace, as directed by Don Stephenson at breakneck speed, particularly in the first act, reminds us that it doesn't really matter -- we are just there to listen to the songs in between the dialogue. Manna Nichols is a much higher soprano than were used to hearing sing the lead and the sound (design by Jay Hilton) is off, especially in duets and in the three-person opening number fugue, so that individual voices cannot be distinguished as they should be, detracting from the number-one reason to see this show.

If you haven't seen it many times, the plot gist goes like this: Gambler Nathan Detroit (Mark Price) is looking for a place to host his craps game for the "guys," Nicely Nicely Johnson (Scott Cote), Benny Southstreet (Noah Plomgren), Harry the Horse (Carlos Lopez) and Big Jule (Jerry Gallagher -- who is really, very big), preferably at a location where police Lt. Brannigan (David Sitler) can't find it.

Nathan owes some money to gambler extraordinaire Sky Masterson and bets that the suave, good-looking ladies' man can’t get prim, religious Sarah Brown (Nichols) to go with him for a dinner date to Havana (Well, here things have come current, I suppose. Back in 1950, people jetted to Havana. Every time I saw this show from the '70s onward, I thought it strange that people would jet to Havana since that had not been allowed for years. Now, with recent changes in policy by the US administration, I suppose Sky and Sarah could soon be jetting off for dinner in Havana again, but I digress......)

Meanwhile, Nathan has been putting off his fiancée, Miss Adelaide (Nancy Anderson), an exotic dancer at the Hot Spot club who has been trying to get Nathan to the altar for 14 years (an elderly gentleman seated near me was quite taken with Adelaide's dance numbers and show-girl costumes designed by Tracy Christensen, with wig and hair design by Mark Adam Rampmeyer.) Even though Sky first became involved with Sarah because of the bet, he starts to fall for her for real, and he tries to help her save the Salvation-Army style mission run by her grandfather, Arvide Abernathy (John Jellison) in a seedy New York neighborhood. The organization's general, Matilda B. Cartwright (Karen Murphy) threatens to close the mission if it doesn’t start reaching some sinners, so Sky starts calling in some markers.

Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ book, based on "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" and "Blood Pressure" – two short stories by Damon Runyon– (which also borrows characters and plot elements from other Runyon stories, most notably "Pick the Winner") needs some updating. A story that depicts "dolls" either as uptight prigs (Sarah is referred to as a “religious tomato”) or stupid bimbettes (with an almost exclusively male creative team credited here at Goodspeed) usually isn’t high on my list of recommendations, but really, the Loesser score makes it worthwhile.

Guys and Dolls plays at the Goodspeed Opera House, 6 Main St., East Haddam, through June 20. Perfromances are Wednesday at 2  and 7:30 pm; Thursday at 7:30 pm. (with select performances at 2 pm), Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm (with select performances at 6:30 pm. Tickets $27-$82.50  860 873-8668; www.goodspeed.org.

Special ticketing options are available for this production:
·         Add a leisurely cruise and sumptuous buffet aboard the Lady Katharine river cruise to your theatre ticket. Available on Thursday, June 18. Choose an 11:30 am lunch cruise ($42) or a 5 pm dinner cruise ($47) to pair with your ticket to either the 2 pm or 7:30 pm performance.
·         Meet the Cast: Take part in discussion with the cast after the Thursday evening performances on May 7, 21 and June 4. Meet the Cast events are free with a ticket to that evening’s performance.
·         Friday Dinner Theatre Package: Includes dinner (choice of beef, chicken, fish, or pasta entrée ) at the Gelston House (located next door to the Opera House) and a ticket to the 8 pm performance. $82.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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