By Beki Pineda; Image: Performance Now Theatre Company
GUYS AND DOLLS. Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser; book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows; directed by Kelly Van Oosbree. Produced by Performance Now Theatre Company (presented at Lakewood Cultural Center, 470 South Allison Parkway, Lakewood) through June 28. Tickets available at 303/987-7845 or www.performancenow.org.
There is a crispness and a sophistication to the choreography of Kelly Van Oosbree that not only adds to the story and enhances the music, but also captures the mood of the era. She has the ability to create stage pictures that are worthy of a Broadway production. Even when people on stage are only listening to someone else talk or sing, she arranges them with variety and depth in a manner that seems both comfortable for the actors and appropriate to the scene. This skill was apparent in an earlier production of HAIRSPRAY as well as in this lovely version of GUYS AND DOLLS. Her imagination and attention to detail add nuances and “bits” to the scene that are original and charming. For instance, Kelly and costumer Cindy Franke combined resources to come up with a funny bit for the Hot Box Girls in the “Bushel and a Peck” number that I’d never seen before. It cracked up the audience.
While Kelly’s casting choices puzzle me at times at the start of a show, inevitably midway through the first act, I’m convinced that she knew what she was doing. Although there was no confusion over her casting of Brian Trampler as Nathan Detroit (a part he was born to play), her choice for Sky Masterson (Jeremy Rill) would not have been my first choice. Too tall, not strong enough, a little young. But then he opened his mouth and started singing, and all doubt disappeared. He was so clever in convincing Sister Sarah to go to Havana with him and so sweetly fell in love with her. And, man, can he sing! It also became kind of cute the way his co-star fit right under his chin—so he wasn’t too tall at all. Just the right size. Kelly must have seen that sweetness in him and the compatibility with Sarah Grover when he auditioned. I should have had more faith.
The human dynamo that is Sarah Grover whirled herself right into the role of Sister Sarah, the mission doll. Not only was she appropriately stodgy in that part of the role, she was also a crazy cute drunk. Her version of “If I Were a Bell” was made authentic by her drunken determination to convince Sky that that was what she would really do if she were a bell. Much more convincing and comical than the usual romantic treatment this song is given.
The other couple in the play are Nathan Detroit (Brian Trampler), the proprietor of a floating craps game, and Miss Adelaide (Stacy Baker), Nathan’s long-suffering fiancée and the star dancer at the Hot Box Club. In some versions, you wonder why she doesn’t just up and leave him. But Brian’s Nathan is so cute, so earnest, such a victim of circumstance and timing, that you can’t help but forgive him. The show-stopping “Adelaide’s Lament” is often sung as though she is sick all the way through. I enjoyed this version that allowed Stacy to display her bump and her belt.
The smaller roles of the gangsters, Hot Box dancers and mission workers were also well cast. Adam Kinney as Nicely Nicely, Adam Luhrs as Benny, and Eric Weinstein as Rusty get the evening off to a great start with the “Fugue for Tinhorns.” Adam leads the “sinners” again in “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” In another example of casting against type, Shandra Duncan plays the (usually throwaway) role of General Cartwright, the one who wants to close the mission down. But in the religious throes of “Rocking the Boat,” she cuts loose and wails like Aretha Franklin and dances like James Brown. Dennis King also does a great job of singing one of my favorite songs in the show, “More I Cannot Wish You.”
Ken Goodwin and Alisa Schmidt, the muscle behind this group, have done a superlative job of building loyalty in their acting company and their production staff. The result is that the audience gets to see their favorite people on stage over and over. In one show they take a lead, and in the next they very happily fill the ensemble. The “regulars” in the cast get to work with their friends and experience guest artists as well. The backstage team is honed into a well-trained crew of ninja stagehands that quietly make the scene changes as smooth as “buttah.” In this production, the scene-change music provided in the score was twice as long as this excellent crew needed.
The stage is simply adorned with monolithic structures branded with the names of iconic New York locations. Effective and simple. As always, Cindy Franke’s costumes were authentic when they needed to be, as with the mission uniforms, and whimsical when they could be—Miss Adelaide’s and the Hot Box Girls’ outfits.
Performance Now has become my go-to place for good musical theater!
WOW factor: 9