Guys and Dolls, Book by Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows. Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser. Directed and choreographed by Kelly Shook. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"And if I was a bell I'd be ringing."
Nick Abbott and Katherine McLellan; photo: Allen Phelps
Anyone who doesn't like a nice, big, juicy Porterhouse steak is crazy. But grind that steak up into tiny pieces and cook it into a patty, while it looks different it's still ultimately Porterhouse, just in a different form. Take a big cast, big orchestra Broadway musical often acclaimed as the perfect piece and do the same thing to it as you did to the steak and what you get is still that big Broadway musical, just reduced to its absolute essence. So it is with The Theater Barn's new production of "Guys and Dolls." It's smaller, finer and much less imposing, but it's still the show you remember, only much more intimate and delicious than before.
Sky Masterson still falls in love with Sarah Brown and Nathan Detroit still confounds his 14 year fiancee Miss Adelaide. Uncle Arvide still supports Sarah's choice. The Hat Box chorines still strip in the second act opener. Big Jule from Chicago still threatens everyone and forces them to shoot craps. It's all there, as before, packaged neatly by the authors but wrapped in tiny patterned paper by its producer and director. I started out not liking the overwhelming reduction but I came away from it loving the experience.
Sky is played here by Nick Abbott who shares his vocal talents and his good looks with us as often as the script allows. He is dynamic and he is absolutely right for the role in this production. His height emphasizes the diminutive Katherine McLellan who plays Salvation Army girl Sarah Brown. This young actress unleashes her lovely singing voice and for 3 minutes or so all is right with the universe; there is no unrest in the world; there is no fear and hatred in the neighborhood; there is only sweet music.
Music Director Alan Schlichting at the piano leads his bass and drums (thats the whole orchestra) sweetly through the romantic ballads, the comedy songs and the three ballets much more reasonably than I expected from that combination. The musicians could use a bit of amplification just to fill the house with sound, but that is my only qualm about the production.
Andrew Pace and Katie Luke; photo: Allen Phelps
Andrew Pace as Nathan and Katie Luke as Adelaide deliver one of the best renditions of their comic duet, "Sue Me" I have ever witnessed. Pace is exceptionally talented and seems to get better and better with each show I see him acting in at the Barn. He has a genuine way with a comic line that lets him deliver it sincerely and still get a laugh.
Luke is one of the prettiest Adelaide's ever, soft but composed, brittle yet compliant. Her two nightclub numbers are delightful and her "Lament" pushes all of its buttons perfectly. When she and McLellan sing their duet "Marry the Man Today" she generously shares both the comedy and tragedy of their love stories in ways that tear at the heart and project the hope for the future. Luke's Adelaide is a true picture of the woman who has always seemed to be a caricature before this.
Perhaps its the closeness and intimacy of this theater that makes the difference. The opening New York City ballet has been pared down but still manages to give us all of the images that we need to know the place we're in for the duration. The Cuba ballet isn't as upsetting for Sarah as it usually is, but she still gets to let her hair down and lose control of her held-in animal instincts. The Crapshooter's Dance is still imbued with masculinity and resolve. In all of these historic instances Kelly Shook brings us what her non-dancing, non-chorus can present and they do it very well. Her staging of the Hat Box musical numbers with only three chorines to kick and dance and sing is excellent also and makes us forget how thin the orchestration is in these dance numbers.
The production is enhanced remarkably by Jade Campbell's costumes and Abe Phelps' sets. the lighting by Todd Allen and Gabe Karr is different in that main players are not always in light but that will change with the playing.
Performances of the smaller roles neatly matched those of the four principals. Sky Vogel adds gravel-voiced gravitas to the plot as Big Jule. Paul Urriola as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Andrew Martinelli as Benny Southstreet are a fine duet in the title song and Urriola delivers a wallop with "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat." John Trainor is touching as Arvide and he does a very sweet Irish-toned solo in "More I Cannot Wish You."
It is hard to believe that a reduced edition of this show can be this effective. It's the fine food concept. Great stuff produces great stuff and Shook and company prove that theory in New Lebanon. This is a run, don't walk situation as seats are limited. One word of advice: Be prepared to enjoy yourself. . .in spite of yourself.
Guys and Dolls plays at the Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, NY through September 3. For information and tickets call the box office at 58-794-8989 or go on line to theaterbarn.com.