(Normally, I wouldn’t review a show after it’s closed, but the cast and crew of the production wanted me to review it.)
In 1952, theater critic Kenneth Tynan said “‘Guys and Dolls’ is not only a young masterpiece, but the Beggar’s Opera of Broadway.”
What is Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows’ musical to high schools then?
The musical, which ran Friday and Saturday night in the Claire C. Standard Auditorium at Cedar Falls High School, is frequently revived on Broadway and is regarded as a staple of community theaters and high schools.
This production, under the direction of Michelle Rathe, breathes life into the musical making it seem new.
The show, frequently seen as the archetype of a musical comedy, takes place mainly in Times Square. Nathan Detroit (Chris Bowden) is in quite a bit of trouble. He’s broke, making him unable to get a venue for his floating craps game (the door to the gym at the public school is locked) nor can he purchase a gift for the 14th anniversary of his engagement to Miss Adelaide (Amelia Gotera), a headliner at the Hot Box club.
Yes, they’ve been engaged for 14 years.
To try to get the money to secure a venue for the game, Nathan bets Sky Masterson (Rhys Talbot) that he can’t get the pious Sergeant Sarah Brown (Riley Martin) to accompany him to Havana. As a result of this, subsequent bets are made , events are (tried to be kept) hidden and the required hi-jinx ensue.
If not done properly, the whole show could come off as a clunky camp. But Rathe and the cast, led by four superb leads, make the show run briskly at two hours, which may be considered long by some standards.
In order for the show to work, the leads must work well together and with the other actors.
As Nathan Detroit, Bowden is stressed and tense, something that is not aided by the presence of the menacing Big Jule (Brian Harris) from East Cicero and Harry the Horse (Tyler Schaub) from Brooklyn. He controls his goons, Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Carter Allen), Angie the Ox (Ben Ulfers), Bruiser Bates (Dylan Stull), Rusty Charlie (Eric Neill), Society Max (Mason Meyer) and Benny (Aaron Paquette). All of them play off of each other, creating characters that are notable, but without stealing scenes whe it’s not their turn. The six really shine in act two in a scene that occurs at the Save-a-Soul Mission, where Allen, along with Meyer and the ensemble perform “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” one of the many outstanding productions in this production.
But one has to wonder why Adelaide and Nathan have been engaged for so long. Nathan explains that a dame like her is rare. Gotera is a feisty, energetic Adelaide, occasionally losing that energy, unfortunately in “Adelaide’s Lament.” And while Bowden plays Detroit as a nervous businessman, he woos Adelaide and us with a stunning voice in “Sue Me,” a number he shares with an angry Gotera.
The two other leads are unbelievably amazing in their roles. Talbot plays Masterson as a wise, experienced gambler, but to say he is also charming is a litote. He sings several numbers with a beautiful voice that one could get lost in and makes “Luck Be A Lady Tonight” such a treat with the skill he performs it with. It is no wonder that the upstanding Sarah Brown falls for the “sinful” gambler.
Sky Masterson is a gambler and gambler tend to be good at hiding things. While there is humanity and passion in Talbot’s performance, early on in his the show, the character walks into the Save-a-Soul mission to court Sarah and he says that his “heart is heavy with sin.” The way that he plays this scene is done in a manner that one might think that he’s dead serious about giving up gambling.
Martin is equally talented and stunning as Sarah Brown. Her acting skills can’t help but make us wonder as to why she says, behaves and protests the way she does at Sky. She is also graced with a beautiful soprano voice that, along with Talbot’s voice and their chemistry, makes their numbers and scenes together engrossing. She also plays the character as very righteous but without being a caricature. Right towards the end when she lies and says that the gamblers weren’t in the mission, she says it with such elegance that it doesn’t seem like a sin.
The production, having a high school budget, is simple but that might be what aids in making this production excellent. Some things are moved to indicate that the scene is on a street, in the Save-a-Soul mission or the Hot Box. They do not detract from the acting, singing or complex dancing in any way.
The costumes are also fitting for the characters. The gangsters wear suits, maybe a fedora with it, and the Hot Box Girls wear playful, skimpy costumes. To put them in modest costumes would be an injustice; they are nightclub dancers.
The score has a sound unique of musicals during that time period, which is presented well by the orchestra, under the direction of Gerald Ramsey. The 11 member ensemble is neither underwhelming nor are they overwhelming. They ably play Loesser’s score in a manner that compliments the actors.
If you missed this production, it is indeed a shame. While “Guys and Dolls” is oft produced, it may be rare that you see a production of this caliber.