Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Guys and Dolls" at the Ordway

I've seen several musical theater classics this month that I've never seen before, on stage or screen.  Leonard Bernstein's On the Town, Stephen Sondheim's A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and now Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls.  I've loved them all (great music, great choreography, great performances), but I think this one is my favorite so far.  An all-around spectacular production.

Guys and Dolls is a joint production of the Ordway Center in St. Paul and 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle.  The cast is mostly from Seattle (along with a few Broadway vets), although the director is local - Peter Rothstein of Theater Latte Da.  This is a big old-fashioned musical: huge cast, lush-sounding 20-piece orchestra, fantastic dance numbers, to die for costumes, and a beautifully smart set.  I loved every minute of it.

Guys and Dolls tells the story of several gangsters and the women who love them in 1950s New York City.  It's one of those shows where even if you've never seen it, you know many of the songs because they've become a part of popular culture ("A Bushel and a Peck," "If I Were a Bell," "Luck Be a Lady"), from the good old days when there was much crossover between musical theater and popular music.  A trio of friendly and charming gangsters in bright beautiful suits begin the show: Nicely-Nicely (Todd Buonopane, aka 30 Rock's Jeffrey Weinerslav), Benny (Greg McCormick Allen, reminiscent of Steve Buscemi's Nucky Thompson), and Rusty (Allen Galli).  They're looking for the traveling craps game hosted by Nathan Detroit (Daniel C. Levine), who's struggling to find a location for the game.  To make the money he needs to secure a place, Nathan bets big time gambler Sky Masterson (Matt Farnsworth) that he can't get the stern Sergeant Sarah Brown from the "Save A Soul" mission (Katherine Strohmaier) to go to Havana with him.  Sky bribes her into going (in a fun and fabulous Cuban dance scene that makes me want to take salsa lessons), and surprise surprise, they fall charmingly in love!  This guy will never be the same now that he has met his doll.

Meanwhile, Nathan's fiance of 14 years is getting impatient waiting for a wedding ("a person could develop a cold"), and unhappy with her guy's gambling ways.  Billie Wildrick is just perfect in the role of Miss Adelaide, not to mention her fabulous wardrobe and shoes!  Despite his fiance's disapproval and the fact that he lost the bet, Nathan manages to hold the game in one location and another.  Sky bets everyone there that if he wins, they'll accompany him to Sarah's mission.  He wins, the "sinners" show up at the meeting, and Sarah is able to continue her work.  The gamblers confess their sins, leading to a highlight of the show when Nicely-Nicely leads the company in the rousing "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat."  In the end, everyone ends up with whom they're supposed to, and life goes on for these guys and their dolls.

As usual on Wednesday nights at the Ordway, there was a post-show discussion.  Much of the large ensemble came out to answer questions.  As always, it's interesting to hear what goes on behind the scenes.  What struck me the most was something that Billie (Adelaide) said in response to one audience member suggesting that the show should keep touring instead of ending this Sunday.  She said that there's something beautiful about the ephemeral nature of theater.  Unlike movie or TV where you can buy the DVDs and repeatedly watch them to your heart's content, theater only exists in the moment.  Every show, every night, is a one-of-a-kind experience that lives on only in your memory.  I completely agree with that sentiment.  That's a big part of why I started this blog, as a way to capture those moments in some small way so that I can go back to them and recall the experience.