A Winning Production

Last night, we went to Cabrillo Music Theatre in Thousand Oaks to see “Guys and Dolls”. Now, it hasn’t been all that long since we last saw Guys and Dolls, having seen the Hollywood Bowl production in early August. Given that, it’s interesting to compare and contrast the two performances… and, not surprisingly, there are places where the stellar Bowl cast did better, and places where the regional Cabrillo cast did better.

As I wrote back in August, it is quite likely you are familiar with Guys and Dolls, but just in case you are not, 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. I should note that Cabrillo did the stock stage version. The Hollywood Bowl version interpolated an additional song, “Adelaide, Adelaide”, which appears to have come from the movie.

Cabrillo’s production of G&D was excellent — they know how to put on a musical. I was particularly impressed with their Sarah Brown, Jessica Bernard, a local performer who gave a spot-on performance (and was significantly stronger than Jessica Biel). She had a strong singing voice, and acted the role spectacularly. Also strong was the other lead “doll”: Alet Tayloræ as Miss Adelaide. Taylor’s Adelaide wasn’t as nasal as the typical Adelaide (Vivian Blaine, Faith Prince, or Ellen Greene, who was very strong at the Bowl), but Taylor’s Adelaide was a comic gem. The combination of the strong singing and the incredible comedy made her perfect for the role. Also strong was Barry Pearlæ as Nathan Detroit. Pearl’s Nathan didn’t have lanky charm of Scott Bakula or the manic energy of Nathan Lane, but came across as the long-suffering arranger. He was a strong singer, a strong actor, and a strong dancer.

Alas, I regret to say that Jeff Griggsæ as Sky Masterson was weaker, mostly in comparison to Brian Stoakes Mitchell (but then again, anyone compared to BSM is weak). Griggs singing was good and charming. My real problem was with his spoken lines, as they had this odd southern drawl, making me think of Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside in Mame as opposed to the New York Sky of Guys and Dolls. This may have been a larger accent problem: their Harry the Horse had nary a Brooklyn accent; Lt. Branigan had an odd Irish accent that kept going in an out; and Arvide had some accent I couldn’t quite fit in. So although Griggs’ Sky was enjoyable to watch, he didn’t soar as the Bowl performance did.

Turning to the secondary characters, Nova Safo did a good job as Nicely Nicely Johnson. He wasn’t the rotund comic of Stubby Kaye or Ken Page, but he fit the role well and gave a great turn in “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”. Paul Zegler was touching as Arvide. Farley Cadena was odd as Gen. Cartwright — she came across as sexier and more playful than one would expect of that role. As for the tertiary characters, they were mostly interchangable with no particular either standouts or problems (well, I should note that I did enjoy Jennifer Foster and Jantre Haskin Christian as they missionaries — they were cute and seemed to be really enjoying their roles): Mike McLean (Benny Southstreet), Danny Blaylock (Big Jule), Jay Weber (Harry the Horse), Ronald Rezac (Lt. Brannigan), David Scales (Rusty Charlie), Jebbel Arce (Rosie), Marc Bastos (Sleepout Sam Levinsky), Paul Berry (Brandy Bottle Bates), Cory Bretsch (The Greek), Johnny Cannizzaro (Joey Biltmore/Johnny One Eye), Heather Castillo (Lulu), Andreas De Rond (Scranton Slim), Jeff Ditto (Frankie Fingers/MC), Jennifer Foster (Agatha), Jantre Haskin Christian (Martha), Kat Liz Kramer (Laverne), Alida Michal (Mimi), Sabrina Miller (Trixie), Clay Stefanki (Society Max), Erica Strong (Betty), Bobby Traversa (Calvin/Willy the Worrier), and Estevan Valdes (Liver Lips Louie).

Turning to the technical side of things… the direction of this production was quite good, but I would expect nothing less from Nick Degruccio. Roger Castellano’s choreography was strong, but was at times done in by the lighting … so, as we’re on the subject … the lighting design by Jared A. Sayeg was mixed. There were scenes were it was quite strong, such as the red lighting during the Havana scene or the use of the gobos, but it was done in by the poor follow spots. These were especially distracting during numbers such as Guys and Dolls or the Gamblers Ballet. The orchestra, under the musical direction of Darryl Archibald, was excellent, and the sound design by Jonathan Burke was easily heard throughout the theatre. Although the sets by T. Theresa Scarano were excellent as always, I was less impressed with Christine Gibson’s costumes. The gamblers in Guys and Dolls need to be colorful, not dressed in browns, blacks, and greys… and the dolls need to be more dolled up than they were. Paul Hadobas, on the other hand, did a good job with the hair and makeup design. The production stage manager was the always exceptional Lindsay Martens, assisted by Allie Roy.

The last performance of “Guys and Dolls” is this evening.

Upcoming Theatre: This evening is the next episode of “Meeting of Minds” Episode #9 (Martin Luther, Plato, Voltaire, Florence Nightingale) at the Steve Allen Theatre. Halloween weekend is currently open, as is the first weekend of November. November 11th (Veterans Day) we’re at a Day Out With Thomas at Orange Empire Railway Museum. The following weekend Erin is going to the TMBG concert at UCLA, while we will attending Havdalah with Peter Yarrow at the American Jewish University. On November 22 at 2pm we return to REP East Playhouse for “M*A*S*H”, followed by the next installment of Meeting of Minds (pending ticketing). Thanksgiving weekend is currently open; however, it might be taken by a shift of our production for the following weekend (“Baby Its You” at the Pasadena Playhouse, December 5 at 8pm… which, by the way, features the actress who played Marie Antoinette), due to the fact I head out the morning after we see it for ACSAC in Hawaii. That same weekend (December 3, 4, 5) also brings “The Taming of the Shrew” at Van Nuys HS — we’ll likely be going to the Friday, December 4 performance. I fly out to Hawaii for ACSAC on 12/5 (hint: registration is now open and we have a great technical program — so come to the conference). While there, I hope to get together one night with shutterbug93 and see some local theatre. I return 12/12 (and, alas, this is why we can’t see Equus at LA Valley College the weekends of 12/3-5 and 10-12). December 20 bring “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson. As always, I’m looking for suggestions for good shows to see, especially if they are on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix.

Disclaimer: In light of the upcoming rules, you should know that nobody paid me anything to write this review. In fact, I receive no remuneration for any reviews I write.