It’s a sucker bet when the deck is stacked…

Last night we went to the Hollywood Bowl for our first bowl outing of the summer: “Guys and Dolls in Concert”. “Guys and Dolls” isn’t new to us: Karen worked on the show in her high school years; and we’ve seen it many times — most recently, in 2004 at the St. Louis Muny Opera. “Guys and Dolls” is one of members of the set of perfect shows (the set also includes “Gypsy” and “The Music Man”): wonderful book, wonderful music, and wonderful lyrics. So, you take a perfect show, and then stack the deck with a dream cast, and your odds of success are damn good.

For those unfamiliar with “Guys and Dolls”, you can find a full synopsis on Wikipedia. In a nutshell, it tells the story of Nathan Detroit, an inveterate gambling arranger, and his fiancee of 14 years, Miss Adelaide. Nathan is trying to arrange a location for a floating crap game, but needs $1,000 to secure the place. To get the money, he bets another gambler, Sky Masterson, that he will not succeed in taking the lead missionary from the Save Your Soul Mission, Sister Sarah Brown, to Havana Cuba for dinner. In the process of wooing Miss Brown, Sky gives her his marker for at least 1 dozen certified sinners for a midnight prayer meeting. To cover the craps game planning. a date is finally set for Nathan and Miss Adelaide. Sky gets Sarah to Havana, and while he is there the craps game is held… at the mission, without Sky’s knowledge. When they return, Sarah believes Havana was just a subterfuge for the game, and dumps Sky. But Sky must redeem his marker for his dignaty, so he bets the other gamblers for their souls… he wins, and as a result, they must attend the prayer meeting. Doing so forces Nathan to miss his elopement, and Adelaide dumps him… but after a great duet with Sarah, they realize they have to marry their men in order to change them. All of this is told in the mileau of Daymon Runyon’s colorful world and style. “Guys and Dolls” features a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser.

The music for this show is likely familiar to you, and includes such standards as “Guys and Dolls” and “Luck Be A Lady”. I mention this to note that there was one song I actually hadn’t heard before, which I’m guessing is called “Adelaide, Adelaide”. This takes place in Act I, Scene 7, and is sung by Nathan. There is the possibility that it just isn’t a formal song.

As I said before, the deck was stacked for this production. Not only did the production pick a spectacular work to produce, the casting team of Margery Simkin and Michael Donovan C.S.A. assembled a stellar cast for the show. This cast helped the show reach the heights, and was almost perfect. Let’s look at the principals:

Nathan Detroit was played by Scott Bakulaæ, a remarkable actor familiar to many from Chuck, Enterprise, and Quantum Leap. Many do not know that Bakula is quite the song-and-dance man, a talent demonstrated ages ago in the animated film Cats Don’t Dance. As Nathan, Bakula did a wonderful job — he wasn’t as outrageous as Nathan Lane (1992 revival), and came off as someone who really cared about Adelaide. He sang strong and clear, and was a strong dancer.

Miss Adelaide, Nathan’s long-time fiancee, was played by the wonderful actress Ellen Greeneæ, who many know from Pushing Daises, Heroes, and Little Shop of Horrors. Greene’s Adelaide was a bit more vulnerable and a bit more comic, and was played well by Greene. About the only weakness is this role was age: Greene is nearing 60, and the character is likely in her 30s. She was able to pull off the look and the singing, but at times the movements left her a little breathless. Still, this was minor, and this is a part she plays with perfection. As a side observation, I note that whenever Greene said (as Aidelaide) that she just wanted a nice home in the suburbs, I kept wishing she would add, “you know, somewhere that’s green”.

Sky Masterson, the suave gambler-of-gamblers, was played by Brian Stokes Mitchellæ. Mitchell is primarily a Broadway-man, and is well known for his roles in Ragtime and South Pacific. He is a wonderful actor, and has one of those voices that makes you melt. He did a remarkable job with Sky, even better (in my opinion) than Frank Sinatra (movie) or Peter Gallagher (1992 revival).

Miss Sarah Brown, Sky’s object of affection, was played by Jessica Bielæ. Most of the world knows Biel from Seventh Heaven, which suprisingly was omitted from her bio. She does have a series of successful movie roles, but no major theatrical roles. She was very strong in the acting portion of the role, and her comic timing (which was well demonstrated during the Havana scene) was spot-on. She was also very good in her dancing. As a singer, she couldn’t compete with the other major singers — being a bit weaker in vocal power and having difficulty at the top of her range — but she did give a reasonably acceptable performance. It will be interesting to watch how this affects her career, and if she keeps working on her voice to continue on the stage.

Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Nathan’s second-in-command and a major comic lead, was played by Ken Pageæ. Page is a wonderful singer and actor (and the 2nd native St. Louisian — together with Scott Bakula), having made his name in the original casts of Ain’t Misbehavin’, The Wiz, Cats, and many more. He was a joy to watch, especially in his big numbers “Guys and Dolls” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat”.

Other notable names in the cast, all of whom gave excellent performances, were Beau Bridgesæ as Arvide Abernathy, grandfather of Sarah Brown; Jason Graaeæ as Benny Southstreet; Danny Stilesæ as Rusty Charlie; and Ruth Williamsonæ as Gen. Mathilde Cartwright. Others in the strong cast were: Jody Ashworthæ (Lt. Brannigan), Cindy Bensonæ (Agatha), Sandahl Bergmanæ (Hot Box Girl), Catherine Chiarelliæ (Ensemble), Josh Christoff (Ensemble), Paul Deanæ (Ensemble), Chelsea Fieldæ (Ensemble), Daniel Guzmanæ (Ensemble), Chris Hollyæ (Ensemble), Jane Lanieræ (Hot Box Girl), Bill Lewisæ (Harry the Horse), Christopher L. Morganæ (Ensemble), Valarie Pettifordæ (Hot Box Girl), Tracy Powellæ (Hot Box Girl), David Raimo (Ensemble), Stefan Raulstonæ (Ensemble), Kyrra Richards (Ensemble), Angelo Riveraæ (Ensemble), Oskar Rodriguez (Ensemble), Herschel Sparberæ (Big Julie), Amir Talaiæ (Angie the Ox/Joey Biltmore), John Toddæ (Ensemble), Nikki Tomlinsonæ (Ensemble), Grace Wallæ (Martha), and Kathryn Wrightæ (Hot Box Girl).
[æ denotes members of æ Actors Equity ]

The production was directed by Richard Jay-Alexander, with choreography by Donna McKechnie, assisted by James Kinney. The direction and choreography did an adequate job of covering the large Hollywood Bowl stage (especially for a concert production), but at times there were multiple things going on at once, making it difficult to follow the action.

The sets (designed by Evan A. Bartoletti) were very simple and meant to hint at locales; they also had to fit within the limitations of the Bowl — meaning no fly space, and set pieces had to be carried on or off stage by actors or stagehands. Within that, they worked. Also successful were the costumes by Thomas G. Marquez and the hair and makeup (designed by Michael Moore, executed by Valarie Jackson). Other technical aspects were more problematic. The sound was clear at the back (no design credited; presumably the captive Bowl designer), although there were clear audio hums from an orchestra microphone, one failing microphone, and significant outside noise (a problem at the Bowl) from some party down on Highland. I also found the odd dripping noise distracting in the sewer gambling scene. The lighting design by Tom Ruzika was weak: often the colors at the top of the bowl were odd or didn’t quite fit the action, and the other lighting was more non-descript. The video aspects (presumably the standard Bowl staff) made faces look abnormally white on the big screen views; luckily, I had good binoculars.

Musically, the Hollywood Bowl orchestra, led by Kevin Stites was excellent. The production stage manager was Meredith J. Greenburg. Barbara Donner was the associate stage manager, and Stacey Sensenbach was the assistant stage manager.

Lastly, the crowd control at exit was horrendous: there was a major pileup at the bottom of the lower escalator, nearly resulting in injuries.

Upcoming Theatre: Next weekend (Saturday night August 8) brings us back to the Pasadena Playhouse for the musical “Crowns”. We go on vacation shortly after that, but while on vacation we’re seeing “Tinyard Hill” at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto on Sun 8/16 @ 7:30 (Goldstar). Sat 8/22 sees us back at the REP for “Beyond Therapy by Christopher Durang. August closes with the Hollywood Bowl on Saturday 8/29, where we are seeing Liza Minnelli. September brings the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashana is the evening of 9/18 and the morning of 9/19; Yom Kippur is the evening of 9/27 and the day of 9/28). The only theatre ticketed so far in September is “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at the REP on 9/25 @ 8pm. Concertwise, September brings Tom Paxton at McCabes on 9/13. October brings “The Night is a Child” at The Pasadena Playhouse on 10/3 @ 8pm and “Guys and Dolls” at Cabrillo Music Theatre on 10/24 @ 8pm, and should also bring “Parade” at the Mark Taper Forum (HotTix go on sale 9/3; the show runs 9/24 through 11/15). As a reminder, I’m also always looking for interesting productions on Goldstar and LA Stage Tix, so if you have a production to recommend, please do so.

Lastly, remember that a recent study showed that it isn’t possessions that are important — it is shared experiences. So go have one of the best shared experiences there is: go support your local live theatre, and help keep all the people who work at the theatre (from the cast to the technical staff) employed.