Saturday, July 24, 2004

Guys and Dolls (Porthouse Theatre-KSU)

Maryann Black makes 'GUYS AND DOLLS' worth seeing at Porthouse

‘GUYS AND DOLLS’ is a problematic musical. It is one of the few modern musicals in which the score was completed long before the book for the show was written. Frank Loesser, so the story goes, wanted to do a musical based on the short stories of Damon Runyon’s mythical New York City, the Big Apple, a city filled with vivid characters. Loesser finished the score and no less than a dozen writers attempted to craft the book. Finally, humorist Abe Burrows and his side-kick Jo Swerling wrapped a quasi-story around the music. As such it is really a serikes of vignettes featuring various caricatures of characters, blended into a unified kind-of plot. This lack of clarity causes difficulty for directors, actors and choreographers.

The nature of the caricatures is the second challenge. This is New York...the frenetic, “Nu Yawk,” the loud and brash and unreal-peopled Gotham. The characters have to be bigger than life, yet believable. The actors have to understand the sound, the walk, the need be over-exaggerate the honest motives of the people they portray. Actors can’t feign being these characters, they have to be the personalities.

In the main, ‘GUYS AND DOLLS’ is the combination of the tales of Nathan Detroit, a small time gambler who runs the “oldest established floating crap-game in New York” and Adelaide, his doll; the high roller Sky Masterson’s gambit of winning a bet by talking the up-tight missionary doll, Sarah Brown, into going to Havana with him; and, the multiple character studies of the likes of Harry the Horse, Nicely-Nicely, Benny Southstreet, Big Julie.

The wonderful score includes such classics as “I’ll Know,” “If I Were a Bell,” “My Time of Day,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “Marry the Man Today.”

The Porthouse production has many things going for it including MaryAnn Black, Timothy M. R. Culver, MaryAnn Black, Bil Pfuderer, MaryAnn Black. And, did I mention, MaryAnn Black? Get the idea that MaryAnn Black carries the show? You are right. Without her right-on portrayal of Adelaide, the production would be a bust. Her “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Take Back Your Mink” and “Adelaide’s Lament” are all show stoppers.

Culver adds dimension by developing a perfect Nicely-Nicely. He is one of the few on stage who appears to be in total control of his character’s soul and has a good singing voice to top it all off. Bil Pfuderer as Arvide Abernathy, the head of the Save A Soul Mission, has a wonderful brogue and his version of “More I Cannot Wish You” was wonderfully touching.

Jim Weaver and Yolanda Christine Davis as Sky and Sarah, lack any charismatic connection. It is hard to believe them as a couple. They never look, kiss or touch as if they meant anything to one-another.

Weaver’s youth and gentleness make it hard to believe that he is THE Sky Masterson, gambler extraordinaire. But. he has a beautiful pop singing voice and is consistent in his interpretation of the role.

Davis appears miscast as Sarah. She has a beautiful singing voice, but it does not fit the show’s songs. She sings words, not meanings, and her shallow acting makes the character unbelievable.

Rohn Thomas comes close to the Nathan role, but misses the mark. He just doesn’t have the underlying New Yorkese needed for the role.

Terri Kent, the director, appears stuck between a rock and a hard place. She, because of the nature of the youthful casting resources available at Porthouse, has clean scrubbed suburban youth playing New York mobsters and cabaret dancers. In the main, they feign facial expressions, lack the sounds and the attitude needed, thus are unbelievable.

Kent is also not aided much by John Crawford, her choreographer, who has failed, with two exceptions, to create exciting movements. It may have been that he realized the limited hoofing abilities of his cast and low-keyed it, but the music encourages so much more. Dance highlights were the tap number by Black and the female chorus and Culver’s delightful “Sit Down, you’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: It’s worth seeing ‘GUYS AND DOLLS’ just to see MaryAnn Black in action. As she proved in Porthouse’s ‘OKLAHOMA,’ and again in ‘GUYS AND DOLLS,’ she’s a local superstar!