note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Caroline Burlingham Ellis
Special to Theater Mirror
One of Broadway's most perfect musicals has to be "Guys & Dolls," and the delightful new production at the Turtle Lane Playhouse in Auburndale is guaranteed to cure what ails you.
Based on the writing of Damon Runyon, "Guys and Dolls" deals with the hilarious and romantic adventures of a bunch of lowlife gamblers, their "dolls" and an outpost of the Salvation Army. The tight book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows is full of crackling colloquial dialogue that showcases some of the best music and lyrics Frank Loesser ever wrote. In the story, Nathan Detroit (Harry Rothman) is trying to put together a crap game without raising the suspicions of plainclothes detective Lieutenant Brannigan (Steve Phillips). The Biltmore Garage demands $1,000 in advance to host illegal gambling, so the perennially broke Nathan makes what he thinks is a sure bet with high-roller Sky Masterson (Aaron Velthouse). He bets that Sky will never persuade the upright young missionary Sarah Brown (Sarah Powell) to fly to Havana for dinner. One grand rides on the wager.
Director Robert "Jake" Jacobs, with the invaluable assistance of choreographer Karen Fogerty, keeps the action flowing briskly, as an energetic cast puts the well-loved songs over the top. And what songs they are! Many theatergoers will find it impossible to read these lines without hearing music in their heads: "I'll know when my love comes along," "The oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York," "I love you a bushel and a peck," "A person could develop a cold," "When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky," "If I were a bell, I'd be ringing," "My time of day is the dark time," "I've never been in love before," "Luck be a lady tonight," "Marry the man today and change his ways tomorrow." But although classic, the songs are not museum pieces, They feel completely fresh as interpreted by a generation that never saw Marlon Brando do Sky Masterson or Frank Sinatra do Nathan Detroit. It's unusual for community theater to field such an evenly talented cast -- and especially unusual to find so many men who can sing and dance and still manage to look like gangsters.
In fact all the characters look their parts. Gifted singers Velthouse and Powell are convincing as the lovers who prove that opposites attract. Robert Vanaria as Nicely-Nicely puts punch into "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" and "Fugue for Tinhorns (I Got the Horse Right Here)," sung with Matthew Broadhurst and Jonathan Popp. Harry Rothman embodies the marriage-averse gambler Nathan Detroit, and Peri Choteau is his long-suffering fiancee, Adelaide.
Choteau is an exceptional comedic and vocal talent. The dance number "Take Back Your Mink," which she performs in a nightclub with the Hotbox Girls, is a riot. But she has unusual range, too. When her Adelaide lambastes the unreliable but devoted Nathan in "Sue Me," Choteau first hams up the line "I could honestly die" for a big laugh and then, in the next chorus, sings it with genuine poignancy.
Speaking of poignancy, the song "More I Cannot Wish You" can be deeply moving and is generally delivered in the rough and creaky voice of an old man. "Mansions I can wish you, seven footman all in red and your calling card upon a silver tray. But more I cannot wish you than to wish you find your love, your own true love this day." Performed at Turtle Lane by a young woman with a strong and not a bit creaky voice, the plaintive number is charming but less likely to elicit tears.
Still, it is hard to say enough about how all the elements in the Turtle Lane production cohere: the polished singing and dancing, the whirlwind of Runyonesque costumes (designed by Richard Itczak), the sets (by Richard Danehy), the lights (by John MacKenzie) and the sound effects (by Alex Savitzky). Jacobs, music director Wayne Ward, and all the performers deserve considerable praise. From Steve Phillips in a tiny Ed Sullivan cameo to the leads in the big production numbers, everyone seems committed to creating great entertainment -- and having a high old time doing it.
"Guys and Dolls" will be at Turtle Lane through June 5. For further information, call (617) 244-0169.