BSC ROLLS THE BONES ON ‘GUYS AND DOLLS’ AND COMES UP WITH A WINNER; Company Rolls ‘7s, 11s’ in Cant-Miss Musical
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI Arts
(PITTSFIELD, JUNE 21, 2011) — Certain words were invented to describe sounds for which no other words exist: a dog’s “bark” or the wind’s “whoosh.” This critic won’t bore you with the long, literary “O” word that refers to this phenomenon, but we will share that certain names conjugate not sounds but entire worlds: P.T. Barnum and Mickey Mantle, for example, create worlds of circuses and swindlers, of ballplayers and tragic heroes. The same literary conjugation occurs with the name “Damon Runyan.”
GUYS AND DOLLS TICKET INFORMATION
Tuesday/Wednesday 7 p.m.
Thursday-Saturday 8 p.m.
Sunday 5 p.m.
Select Wednesday/Friday matinees 2 p.m.
GUYS AND DOLLS, based on two Runyon short stories, runs Runyonesque to the point of what seems cliched — so long after the musical’s Nov. 24, 1950 Broadway debut. In fact, upon hearing that THE PLANET would be seeing GUYS AND DOLLS at the Barrington Stage Company, a professorial emeritus moon-bat with underwear on too tight lectured me that GUYS AND DOLLS was a “politically incorrect anachronism.” I bet the lovely Mrs. Moonbat she was wrong. After seeing BSC’s production, we can say that luck was with us. She even was a lady. We cleaned up, as does the audience.
Great Expectations, Fulfilled
Wise guys, characters, hustlers, gamblers, cops, gangsters, and womanizers from the streets of Brooklyn as one dimensional as the guys and dolls in GUYS AND DOLLS could only exist in a musical without being laughed off the stage. We don’t expect Hamletian soliloquies or ruminations on Deep Thoughts. We expect great music, energetic performances, and the razor-sharp timing that takes this play just to the edge of where caricature meets farce without stepping into the intersection.
In BSC’s revival of GUYS AND DOLLS on the Union Square Main Stage, the audience gets most of that. As BSC cofounder and artistic director Julie Boyd said in her perfunctory welcome, “Sometimes we do a show just to have fun.” This, as it turns out, is one of those shows — only this and nothing more. Fortunately, in the hands of director John Rando, the cast and crew never take their eye off the rolling bones. We have all bet on Fun, and it’s a sure thing in this spirited production.
The story line, with its connect-the-dots plot, concerns a bet hustler Nathan Detroit (Michael Thomas Holmes) makes with high roller Sky Masterson (Matthew Risch). Detroit finds a can’t-miss wager, intending to take his winnings to finance his infamous floating craps game. He bets Masterson — a man willing to wager on anything, including what sugar cube a fly will land on — that Masterson cannot get the prim, proper, and ready-to-fall-but-doesn’t-know-it Sgt. Sarah Brown (Morgan James) of the Salvation Army-like Save-A-Soul Mission to accompany him for a day/night-fling to Cuba.
Director Rando ‘Gets’ the Heart of Fun at the Core of ‘G&D’
The ensuing plot complications, leading to the inevitable “and they lived happily ever after” ending, are forced into the story line like a size-seven foot being horned into a size-five shoe. That’s in the book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Fortunately, they have the dazzling music of Frank Loesser to carry the show. Musical director Darren Cohen leads the pit band honed to a fine edge. The plot machinations never get in the way. They serve their purpose and give way to the song and dance.
The audience willingly surrenders to the action that unfolds. Again, in a time-honored musical with such songs as “A Bushel and a Peck” and Luck, Be a Lady Tonight,” the actors would have to be tone deaf as Lady Gag-gag and as crippled as “Gunsmoke’s” Chester Goode not to bring out the zest in GUYS AND DOLLS. Rando blocking and direction shaves every last speck of zest off the orange.
Nathan Detroit. Nicely-Nicely Johnson. Big Jule. Harry the Horse. Benny Southstreet. These are names that don’t need thrust, arena, or proscenium to spill larger-than-life into the audience. They just need to be played right by the right actors. Fortunately, casting is 99% of acting, and Pat McCorkle has casted well.
The show revolves around the Detroit, Masterson, and Sister Brown characters, although we can say it’s all but stolen by Daniel Marcus and Timothy Shew, who play two of Detroit’s stooges, Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet, respectively. More on them later.
Holmes, Risch, and James Solid in the Triangle
Holmes as Detroit adds the right amount of pencil-mustache weasel to the fast-talking lovable loser. Holmes sings and dances just well enough to provide a fit setting for his acting. Holmes shows superior comic instincts with gestures and looks that carry forward without being reduced to caricature or poking out the audience’s eyes (again, not quite farce). The swarthy Risch plays the aptly named Masterson with command. His he exudes a sang froid worldliness that might make it plausible for Sister Brown to fall for him. That he falls for Sister Brown, of course, in the space of two acts and ends up a reformed (and uniformed) Save A Soul soldier must not bother anyone. We can simply take Boyd’s lead and go with the fun.
Morgan James delights as Sister Sarah Brown. She hits the high notes like a golden nail striking a miked tympani. Moreover, she sparkles with a sweetness that suggests Sister Brown is not repressed — her drunken Cuban interlude notwithstanding — but is rather holding out for what she wants. She is a genuine, good woman who gets her unlikely man. With love, she masters the Masterson.
Nicely Marcus Brings Down the House, Nicely
Daniel Marcus as Nicely-Nicely nearly brings the house down with his rangy rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” He is more Jackie Gleason than Stubby Kaye when he moves on his feet. It’s a delight to see a chunky man hoofing with the deftness of a butterfly. He dances as if jumping puddles. His partner, Timothy Shew as Benny, plays Mutt to his Jeff — or it is the other way around. In any case, Shew and Marcus wring every ounce of wise-guy whimsy in their set-up roles as plot movers. Both are perfect.
Second bananas Leslie Kritzer (as Detroit’s long-time fiancee, the whiny Miss Adelaide) and Sean Partick Folster (as flatfoot Lt. Brannigan) fare fair to midland. Kritzer, whose character has a cold in the play, tries to make up in volume what she lacks in singing her songs. THE PLANET can’t identity exactly what’s missing, only that something is. Ironically, if we put Kritzer into the reality of her character — a two-bit “star” of the floor show at a dive night club called the Hot Box — what’s missing seems missing on purpose. Somehow, THE PLANET doesn’t think so. Yet it all works, and beautifully. Folster, who eerily looks like a tall Ben Downing, has a thin, reedy voice that doesn’t compare well to the likes of James, Marcus, and Shew. It drops through the floor and into the sewer.
Gifted Performances Round Out Cast
A number of gifted singers and dancers round out the cast, serving in the ensemble and providing crackling fulfillment of Joshua Bergasse’s imaginative choreography. Kellyn Uhl stands out in the ensemble, as Mimi, and as one of the Hot House girls. Maybe it’s because, as she says in the program notes, it’s because she’s “thrilled to finally be doing my Mother’s favorite musical!” Another noteworthy mention in the ensemble goes to Michael Nichols for his “dems and doze” embodiment of Big Jule, a big timey hood gambler from Chee-ka-go. Nicols literally packs heat under his suit coat and brings it to his role as a menacing dimwit gangster.
Alexander Dodge’s sets cleverly evoke the bustling New York City, the Cuban nightclub, the second-hand respectability of the Save A Soul Mission, and the echoey NYC sewers, where we don’t find Ralph Kramden’s Ed Norton but the location of the Detroit’s floating craps game. Dodge makes good use of his construction, for example, cleverly building into the set’s wings a phone booth and a newspaper stand.
Like Nathan Detroit looking for a sure thing to fiance his floating dice game, Julie Boyd wanted a sure thing for the BSC opener. She bet on GUYS AND DOLLS, coming out, on the pass line. She rolled a seven come eleven. It promises a healthy payout.
MORE LATER, AS WE HOPE THE WEBMASTER’S FIX HOLD. OY! WE NEVER HAD THESE PROBLEMS WITH TYPEWRITERS!
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE”
LOVE TO ALL