Henrico Theatre Company’s ‘Guys and Dolls’ is worth the gamble
Read More: Amy Perdue, Brandon James Johns, Chris Craig, Glen Allen Arts Center, Jim Morgan, Jonathan Shipley, Josh Bufford, Joshua Nash Wortham, Kenny Holley, Kyle Billeter, Kyle Smith, Ryan Imirie, Shannon Brown, Sheila Russ, Weston Corey
Guys and Dolls is classic Broadway. Frank Loesser’s songs and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows book are genius. In the right hands the magic is palpable.
The play is based on the short stories of Damon Runyon, a newspaperman and author who celebrated the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era. Runyon captured the sound and feel of the era with uncanny accuracy.
In this skit, Sarah Brown of the Broadway chapter of the Save-A-Soul Mission must fill her Mission with sinners if the Mission is to stay open. Very successful gambler Sky Masterson takes a bet that he cannot woo Salvation Army Sarah and whisk her to Havana. If he loses, he will fill the Mission with sinners.
Sky wins a bet playing dice (“Luck Be a Lady”) that forces the Gangster/Gamblers to the Mission meeting. The rough trade are in town to gamble in whatever venue they can find, all to be arranged by Nathan Detroit, who has been engaged to his fiancé Miss Adelaide for fourteen years.
The production that I saw at the Henrico Theatre Company handled the material fairly well. Director Amy Perdue has some pretty good local talent join her at the Glen Allen Arts Center. I always chuckle walking into that theatre – which is more suited to Amway meetings than it is to theatre as large as it is) – as I remember this is government funded theatre. Henrico County subsidizes the production. I don’t think that’s true of any other theatre, professional or community in our area. Shades of the WPA and the Group Theatre. Who says socialism is dead?
It makes me smile because the U.S. government ought to sponsor Centers for the Arts with great companies housed in it like in other countries.
Ms. Perdue has a lot of flair directing and choreographing musical theatre. Her opening montage of Broadway life is very clever and well executed. The “Hot box” numbers were sassy and performed enthusiastically (although I wondered if they were slowed down a bit by the orchestra). Her choreography was very inventive throughout but the male ensemble had trouble staying in time. This awkwardness carried over some into the gangster scenes. Understandably Community Theatre pulls performers from all walks of life and even if not as clean as one would hope, the enthusiasm for the work is very satisfying to watch.
I did think that there were periods of over-staging and unmotivated movement that disrupted the flow of the show. Particularly during the solos and duets. The ensemble moves enough, the leads can move less and connect more with each other or sell their songs more.
The leads are Sky Masterson (Jonathan Shipley) and Sarah Brown (Kyle Billeter). Miss Billeter was a lovely Sarah and she had good scene work for the most part although I would have liked more contrast in the shifts before she is won over. She also has a fine singing voice although I preferred her lower register when she is intoxicated (“If I were a Bell”) over her high soprano numbers (“I’ll Know” and “I’ve Never Been In Love Before”) which sounded a bit too operatic for the genre.
I am sorry to say that Mr. Shipley did not win me over as Sky Masterson. I didn’t think he looked the part and I was also disappointed that he didn’t sing. Sky has some lovely melodies but Mr. Shipley clipped almost all musical phrases. You look the other way when Rex Harrison or Richard Burton does it but here, it seemed ineffective. Even his acting suffered. He never really looked comfortable in the role.
One effect of actors being uncomfortable is that they don’t connect with their scene partners. There was little heat between Mr. Shipley and Ms. Billeter as romantic leads. The age difference might have added to each actor’s timidity.
Happily, this was not the case with Nathan Detroit (Jim Morgan) and Miss Adelaide (Shannon Brown).
Ms. Brown, and every other actress who has subsequently played Miss Adelaide, is held up against the memory of Vivian Blaine who originated the role and is considered the definitive Miss Adelaide. However, I enjoy a nice riff on a theme and Ms. Brown gave good riff. She softened the bubble gum chewing nasal girl from Queens into something a little more sophisticated and respectable. Adelaide has an iconic number in “Adelaide’s Lament” which Ms. Brown nailed. I liked her very much in her scenes and number with Mr. Morgan (“Sue Me”) and in her duet with Sarah Brown (“Marry the Man Today”).
I liked Mr. Morgan best in his scenes and song with Brown but he gave a wonderful performance throughout the evening. He had the sharpest, most clearly defined character, the most consistent accent and vocal skills. He played the comedy well and generously shared his scenes with whoever he was with. A fine job.
I also very much liked the team of Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Brandon James Johns) and Benny Southstreet (Chris Craig). Mr. Craig was very engaging and made the most of his role with strong vocals and consistent acting. Mr. Johns’ vocals were tight and he killed his solo (“Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”) but he had some trouble with his New “Yawk” dialect and character definition. He doesn’t have to take advice from me but with his talent, and suitability as a character actor, advanced actor’s training will make him highly commercial.
Craig and Johns were joined by the very fine singer Jeremy Bustin in the popular opening number “Fugue for Tinhorns” (“I got the horse right here”). The vocal performance was strong but again, more character definition right off the bat would set up the world of the play much better.
The plethora of gangsters were a mixed bunch. Best of the heap was Josh Bufford’s Big Julie. Very effective characterization. Kenny Holley’s Harry the Horse also scored points.
Overall the female ensemble was more put together than the males. The Hot Box review numbers were done well. The Havana trio which included a funny Kyle Smith as the guy in the middle was very enjoyable.
The evening succeeded for me more for the individual numbers and performances than as a whole. The pacing was fine and the scene changes smooth, but with the unevenness of some of the numbers and the hit and miss acting of the two leads, the flow of the show was jagged.
Sheila Russ’ costumes were nicely done. Most of the costumes suited the period, especially Mr. John’s brown checkered suit. I was a bit disappointed that in the song “Take Back Your Mink” not all of the girls could not be draped in silver fox furs. You’d think Henrico County collected enough taxes to splurge a little.
Ryan Imirie’s sets worked very well, with a major backdrop and units brought in as the scenes required. The stage was very well lit by Weston Corey with special mention to his Havana design.
I was very impressed that this show had a live orchestra. You don’t always get that even in professional productions. The orchestra conducted by musical director Joshua Nash Wortham had some weakness in the brass but by and large provided good accompaniment.
I value Community Theatre as much as any performed in this town. For the $35 per performance professional non-equity actors usually make in local professional theatre, the delineation isn’t that great. The difference is the training of the company. The better trained the ensemble and crew, the better the show. My expectations are always high but the value I place in theatre as a community experience outweighs any other criticism and so I am happy to see, talk about and enjoy any company with a voice to be heard and a comfortable seat for me to perch.
I’m musical theatre happy so I enjoyed Henrico Theatre Company’s Guys and Dolls. I’m sure you will too. It’s only $10.00, so its entertainment value is amazingly high. Go! Enjoy!
Guys and Dolls runs now through May 22nd at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen at 8 p.m. except for Sunday matinees which are at 2:30 p.m. Reservations are recommended. Ticket prices are $10 for adults and $8 for seniors (55+) and students. For more information, call 501-5859.
Images via Gene Payne
Although the pieces in “Shorts 2016” seem disparate from each other, they complement each other very well.March 28, 2016
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