Friday, December 13, 2013

(*) Guys and Dolls, musical by Swerling, Burrows and Loesser, Playhouse San Antonio, December 6 - 22, 2013

GuysAndDollsProgramCover375 opt

1  CTXLT review 225

by Michael Meigs

Broadway! The 1930's! Folks like Arthur Freed and Busby Berkley portrayed that fairytale sophistication in the black-and-white films they cranked out of Hollywood, but an even more magical version came from the typewriter of Damon Runyon, the sportswriter, gambler, drunk and divinely gifted portraitist of the demi-monde of Broadway. 

Runyon knew those people intimately and his colorful prose was laden with slang and surprising turns of phrase often inherited from Yiddish. His writing portrayed a gallery of hustling lowlifes with hearts of gold and a stubborn attachment to their own odd notions of honor. He specialized in short stories with unexpected endings, a bit like those of O. Henry, but his were all written in the immediacy of the present tense, like anecdotes told over a couple of beers. Few read Runyon these days, and that's their loss.

His semi-fictitious creations live on in movies -- twenty films have retold his stories -- and plays, including Guys and Dolls. This light-hearted musical brings together two extremes of New York life: the crap-shooting, horse-betting gamblers and the uniformed Salvation Army staff with drum, trombone, kettle and their message of reform and a better life. Nathan Detroit is the small-potatoes organizer of the "longest established floating crap game in the City of New York," and Miss Sarah Brown is the uniformed Salvation Army sergeant heading the scarcely attended 49th Street Mission.

As in Runyon's fiction, these gamblers aren't real criminals; they're dreamers and grifters, perhaps with a inclination to a simple con, but I am telling you that they are in all ways sincere. Their markers -- should you be uninformed, those are their promises to pay, upon their honor -- are regarded with a seriousness not to be neglected or surpassed.

I am quick to say that the Playhouse production of Guys and Dolls does not entirely stick to the 1930s view of these denizens of the metropolis, but director and choreographer Michelle Pietri puts a robust and very masculine set of guys before you to scheme, avoid John Law and pitch the woo to dolls who are in my estimation most acceptable representatives of the female of the species.
GD Paige optPaige Blend as Miss Adelaide (photo: Siggi Ragnar)Putting aside the Runyonisms for the moment, there are two absolute standouts in this large cast, performers with total concentration and the gift of delivering their characters with special grace and style. 

 Paige Blend is Miss Adelaide, the woeful nightclub songstress left waiting for the altar for 14 years while Nathan Detroit attends to business. She has presence, voice, quickness in detail and the vivacity of a true comedienne. She's got some of best numbers in the show -- "Adelaide's Lament" about allergies caused by a continuing lack of matrimony, her duos "Sue Me" with Nathan Detroit (Miguel Ochoa) and "Marry the Man Today" with Miss Sarah Brown (Caroline Kittrell). She completely inhabits the persona of that not-too-bright but ever-so-sincere character. Her two nightclub numbers with the Hot Box Girls -- "A Bushel and a Peck" and "Take Back Your Mink" -- are adorable.

J.J. Gonzalez as Bennie Southstreet, a minor adjunct to Nicely-Nicely Johnson (chunky comedian Gerardo Vallejo) is the other. Bennie is written as a simple foil to a second banana, a handy harmonizer and straight man. But Gonzalez is intent every second we see him, reacting subtly to events around him. In a way, he represents us, the audience to the events of the play. In the key scene of the second act where the gamblers reluctantly attend a Salvation Army all-night revival meeting Director Pietri made the right choice to put him at center stage on the bench end closest to the audience.
GD 3 guys opt 430 Robert Nauman, Gerardo Vallejo, J.J. Gonzalez (photo: Siggi Ragnar)

Read more at Central Texas Live Theatre. . . .

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