BWW Review: TexARTS Brings GUYS AND DOLLS to Life in Lakeway
Playing at the Kam and James Morris Theatre in Lakeway, TexARTS presents the all-time audience favorite, GUYS AND DOLLS from August 14-23. Based on The Idylls of Sarah Brown by Damon Runyon, Frank Loesser's GUYS AND DOLLS takes us on a journey back in time to Broadway's Golden Era. This world is filled with eccentrics, non-conformists, Salvation Army do-gooders, and flat-out no-goodniks: gamblers, gangsters, and various other colorful creatures. But this is done in such a way that its setting is almost fairy-tale-like and larger-than-life, leading to the story as being described as the "fable of Broadway".
If you're looking for true romance, however, GUYS AND DOLLS isn't your average soggy love story. In Loesser's musical, love and romance take a backseat to the centripetal force of the colorful world of a New York City of the past, and to its more notorious caricatures within it, along with each of their individual obsessions and motivations that guide them. This isn't a story that aims to redefine or educate, but rather it is a light-hearted reminder of a time gone by. A classic homáge to New York, even with its antiquated character ideals, it remains one of the most produced shows around the country. GUYS AND DOLLS was one of the greatest successes that Broadway has ever known. Premiering in 1950, its run of 1,200 performances netted more than twelve million dollars, and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Samuel Goldwyn then purchased the motion-picture rights for a million dollars, and cast Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra and Jean Simmons in the leading roles.
In this particular production, Quinton Johnson portrays the role of Sky Masterson as strong and resonant, though perhaps lacks the various levels of charismatic energy that he is usually so well known for in the roles he's tackled. However, in the signature number of the show, "Luck Be a Lady", Johnson's dynamism is quite infectious, and despite some issues within the harmonies and timing within the men's ensemble, this number was an audience favorite. In the role of Sarah Brown, Taylor Colleen Smit plays Sky's love interest a bit harshly throughout the story, making the transition into a "softer" Sarah a bit awkward. Her metallic quality was present vocally as well, making songs such as "I'll Know", "If I Were a Bell" and "Never Been in Love" lacking in emotion, nuance and control. On the night that I attended, I felt a lack of electricity between these two characters, although it was undeniable that their youthful flair blended well within this particular cast.
Unlike many of her predecessors, Amy Nichols approached the iconic role of Adelaide with much less of that overdone and caricatured brassy style audiences are so used to. But as much as I appreciated a more "real" interpretation of Adelaide, this unfortunately led to a lack of energy within a role that is typically viewed as an audience favorite. As Nathan Detroit, Jose Villarreal also nuanced his role with a tinge of realism and grounded quality within the character, but the connection and timing that inexplicably holds these two comedic roles together was somehow missing. Perhaps what GUYS AND DOLLS truly needs is that larger-than-life element of fable...instead of hints of realism...in order to keep the energy moving from scene to scene in a story traditionally described as the "fable of Broadway."
A significant shift in energy occurs within this production, surprisingly centered around the roles of Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet played, respectively, by Paul Sanchez and Timothy Ellis Riley. In their scenes and musical numbers, they no doubt have complete control of their audiences, and it is undeniable that these two know exactly how to play off of each other as well; they are a joy to watch. Their rendition of the title number "Guys and Dolls" is pure fun, with just the right balance of eccentricity and bravado. Sanchez plays his role seemingly off the cuff with a lighthearted, imaginative and nuanced style throughout the show, yet delicately manages to keep his character contained just enough, so that when he suddenly bursts into his explosive rendition of "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" with the ensemble, he takes the audience completely by surprise. This scene obviously infuses a great deal of energy into the rest of the cast, and there's no doubt that the scenes that follow are positively affected by it.
The ensemble is youthful and delightful, and despite a few technical issues, they keep the pace moving. Designed by Donna Coughlin, this particular production has minimal set and scenery, which is skillfully whisked on and off stage by cast members. Under the direction of Robert L. Frost, the band is tight and lively, and Michael Clement's choreography is fun and energetic, as it seems perfeclty tailored for each performer.
Despite any criticisms, GUYS AND DOLLS is a delightful trip back in time to the Golden Age of music theatre, and renowned director Kasey RT Graham has done a fine job in bringing this Broadway classic to life for TexARTS. And because this organization continues to impress audiences with the exceptional level of talent that they bring to their professional theatre, I very much look forward to their future seasons to come.
GUYS AND DOLLS presented by the TexARTS Professional Series will be playing now through August 23rd at The Kam and James Morris Theatre, 2300 Lohman's Spur, Austin-Lakeway, TX 78734. Performances are Friday, August 14th - Sunday, August 23rd, with Thurs-Sat evening performances beginning at 7:30pm, and Sunday performances beginning at 2pm. Tickets start at $22. For tickets and information, please visit http://www.tex-arts.org or call (512) 861-0069.