Sunday, March 07, 2004

Guys and Dolls

It’s always good when you can walk out of a theatre thinking about something you’ve seen that really excites you. That “something” came in the person of Michael R.J. Campbell, Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Davis Musical Theatre Company’s production of “Guys and Dolls.” Campbell is a talented young man with a big voice and his “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” combined with Michael Miiller’s energetic choreograpy was easily the high point of this production.

“Guys and Dolls,” the 1952 award-winning musical by Frank Loesser, based on the book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling (based on tales of Damon Runyon) is a light-hearted look at the darker side of 1940s New York, and the lovable gangsters who inhabit it.

Director Jan Isaacson has assembled a cast of remarkably strong singers. Without exception they give wonderful voice to every song. Some are better actors than others.

Steve Isaacson was born to play the lovable scoundrel Nathan Detroit, a wise-cracking wheeler-dealer who runs the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York. Detroit is faced with a problem. Lt. Brannigan (Michael Miiler) is cracking down and he can’t find a place to hold the evening’s game.

Detroit has been engaged for years to Miss Adelaide (“the famous fiancee”), a dancer at the Hotsy Totsy club. All Adelaide wants is to finally marry Nathan and live in a house “with a picket fence and bookends.” Lauren Miller is a delightful Adelaide and, second only to Campbell’s Nicely-Nicely, delivers some of the most memorable musical numbers in the show.

Brennen Cull plays Sky Masterson, a high roller who is one of Detroit's regulars. Nicole Burritt-Smith plays Sarah Brown, the dedicated Salvation Army worker who has chosen to live among the seamy characters off Times Square in an attempt to convert the sinners. A wager between Masterson and Detroit leads to an unlikely romance between Masterson and Brown.

Cull and Buritt-Smith are both newcomers to DMTC and add much vocally. If you close your eyes and listen to Burritt-Smith, you might think you were listening to a young Shirley Jones. It’s a delicious, clear sound. Cull has a strong baritone and he comes alive whenever he sings. Unfortunately, there is little chemistry between the two characters, which makes their passion unbelievable and gives little energy to most of their scenes.

Returning for a second time as Arvide Abernathy, grandfather to Sarah, Bob Eggert’s touching “More I Cannot Wish You” displayed an unexpectedly strong voice.

Others in the cast include Mike McElroy as Benny Southstreeet; Ryan Adame as Rusty Charlie, ; Ben Bruening as Harry the Horse; Heather Sheridan as General Cartwright and Michael Jones as Big Jule.

Dancing is sometimes one of the weak points in community theatre productions, whose members are often stronger actors than dancers. However, Michael Miiller does wonders with DMTC casts. He has created such tight dance numbers in this production that it’s difficult to tell who in the cast has dance training and who does not. Whether a small ensemble for Hotsy Totsy club performances or full cast living it up in Havana, each dance number is a gem.

Jean Henderson has done her usual competent job in the costume department, especially in the colorful ensemble for the Havana scene. However, perhaps her most striking visual is for the Hot Box dancers in “Take Back Your Mink.”

One tiny quibble – in a production where such attention has obviously been made to period, in costume and set design (by Jennifer Walley), it was surprising in the opening number to see a photographer holding a camera as if he were looking at the LCD screen of a digital camera, rather than through the eyepiece of a film camera. Disconcerting and distracting for an amateur photographer to watch.

Guys and Dolls has a number of familiar tunes (“I’ll Know,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “If I were a Bell,” “Luck Be a Lady” as well as the title song). It would be surprising if the audience did not emerge humming one of them at the end of the evening.

The production runs through March 28th at the Varsity Theatre.

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