Guys and Dolls,Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, based The Idyll of Sarah Brown and other stories by Damon Runyon, Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser. Directed by John Saunders. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"You cannot squeeze the melon till you get the melon home!"
Colin Pritchard, Carrie Cimma; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
There is such a thing as comfort food. We need it when we crave it. For me it comes in three forms: meatloaf, macaroni and cheese, and musicals: the three "m"s of comfort. I enjoy my time at the Mac-Haydn Theatre because it feeds me great musicals all the time. Right now the feast is Frank Loesser's "Guys and Dolls," a show I keep thinking I know too well to enjoy and then a theater presents me with its version and I find new things and I'm contented all over again. Let me say, before I go on, that this is a production you will shoot yourself over if you miss it.
My evening, however, started with meatloaf at Lagonia's Restaurant in Chatham and the comfort food was tainted by poor attitude and a major error in service. The meatloaf was tasty but dry and could have used a few additional tablespoons of gravy, but that's not the bad part. I asked if the offered greens could be substituted with the asparagus risotto that was an accompaniment to a different special and the waitress assured me that this would not be a problem. When the dish came, though, the side dish was a dry and flavorless pilaf of yellow rice. When I asked the manager about this he was somewhat gruff and sarcastically suggested that because the rice used for my pilaf was arborio rice they considered that to be risotto enough and that the actual risotto was reserved for the shrimp dishes. There was no apology offered for a misunderstanding or a back-stage refusal to give me what I ordered. At Lagonia's the customer was clearly wrong. I won't be back for a second helping of swat.
Back to Guys and Dolls.
This delicious offering with fabulous costumes by Jimm Halliday, superb scenery by Aaron Sheckler and excellent lighting by Andrew Gmoser provided all the comfort satisfaction I could have hoped for. Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide (played with more musicality by Colin Pritchard and Carrie Cimma than is often the case) kissed and made up and actually got to the wedding of a lifetime. They dueted with "Sue Me" in a manner so warm and so hot that the song seemed almost new for a change. Cimma made "Adelaide's Lament" into a dream vacation of humor and charm on the shores of someplace lost to us. Pritchard played his more dramatic scene (in the sewer) with unusual strength and restraint. Together and apart they became and remained the stars of the show.
Stiff competition for them was the Sky Masterson of Mark Edwards and the Sarah Brown of Sarah Talbot. Writing this an hour and a half after the curtain came down I can vaguely remember thinking I wouldn't like Talbot as Sarah. She seemed too sturdy to be convincing in the role. By Scene 8, in Havana, I knew I'd been wrong. She was ideal and she was great. I felt something akin to this with Edwards first entrance but he, a tenor in a baritone role, won me over sooner. In the second act they both became extraordinary. "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" sung by Edwards, was riveting, stirring and strong. "Marry the Man Today," which Talbot shared with Cimma, was a comic highpoint and still managed to be sensitive and moving.
Gabe Belyeu in unlikely casting as Nicely-Nicely Johnson nearly stopped the show with "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" and managed his portion of the title song brilliantly in combination with Chris Bober who truly became the equal of Belyeu in this performance. Alan Angelo as Arvide Abernathy sang the Irish ballad "More I Cannot Wish You" with a certain passion and was an excellent defender of Sarah Brown's honor. Ben Darragh was a hoot as Chicago's own Big Jule. Ryan Alvarado was fun as Harry, the Horse and actually wore the best period tie in the show. Elliot Lane was a fine Lt. Brannigan.
The company really stars in this show. Choreographer Bryan Knowlton shares the responsibility for this with director John Saunders. Except for the difficulty in following the sub-plot of the opening ballet (too many people going in too many directions in the round is very difficult to follow) the physical use of the stage by what felt at times like dozens and dozens of people was excellent. The men's ballet in the sewer in act two is exceptionally good. The two nightclub numbers for the women are almost its equal.
Saunders has really managed this show with an eye for surprise and a brilliant use for the talents of his company. I saw the original Broadway show (yes, I AM that old) and I've seen nine other productions and the movie, so when a director can take a play like this one and delight me with visuals I've never seen and moments that have never seemed so fresh, it is a new sauce on that comfort food I adore. I only wish the director here had also been the chef in the kitchen earlier. That would have made a most memorable evening into a perfect one.
I know you know this show. Even so, it is worth a drive to Chatham to see it again and discover the fresh talent and the remarkable work of the company at the Mac-Haydn.
Chris Bober, Gabe Belyeu, Elliot Lane; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Carrie Cimma, Colin Pritchard, Mark Edwards, Sarah Talbot; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Guys and Dolls plays through August 17 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, located on route 203, just north of Chatham, NY. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-392-9292 or go on line at www.machaydntheatre.org.