BWW Review: Blackfriars Theatre Celebrates 70 Years With a Sparkling Production of GUYS AND DOLLS
Blackfriars Theatre celebrates its 70th season with a vibrant production of GUYS AND DOLLS, a show first produced in 1950. This iconic jewel sparkles in the crown of American musical theatre majesty. It shines perfectly between two other musical gems, OKLAHOMA! (1943) and WEST SIDE STORY (1957). OKLAHOMA! reveres the expansive spirit of America and honors its windswept, open spaces. Its exclamation point in the title pays tribute to the unfettered exuberance of the ever youthful, cowpoke-loving American spirit. WEST SIDE STORY conversely explores the corruption of teenage hope and love suppressed by the confinement and bigotry inherent in crowded American urban life. Tony and Maria can only dream of finding "a place for us." Both of these shows tap into the American mythos that portrays freedom coming from youth and seeking open spaces.
Like Gershwin's musical masterpiece A Rhapsody in Blue, GUYS AND DOLLS glitters with a different vibrancy and vision of America. Its energy comes from the electric pulse of teeming urban life. Street lamplights metaphorically fill the gutters of city living with gold; expressing the idea that hope, joy and love are not exclusive to space and youth. GUYS AND DOLLS' thematic genius arises from a different optimism that professes that by following our personal instincts, no matter one's age, and embracing our innate uniqueness or quirkiness, we all can live our dreams, bustling together in the hive of city life. Its vision is more dynamic, more hopeful, more inclusive and ultimately more American.
The current Blackfriars production adopts this vision and vibrancy all while being performed in an intimate space. Opening with the normally panoramic Runyonland Ballet, the energy and enthusiasm of the actors, the bright costumes and the live music compensate for the space limitations and small cast size. Instead of emphasizing big production numbers, Danny Hoskins' deft direction highlights the parallel relationships between Sky and Sarah and Nathan and Adelaide. Sky and Sarah's relationship embodies the discovery of young love. Nathan and Adelaide represent a more mature love that struggles with selfishness but grows deeper over time as they learn to put the other person first. The energy of the city feeds the passion that allows these relationships to flourish.
J. Simmons and Lani Toyama Hoskins both imbue Sky and Sarah with strength and spirit. They possess clear, expressive singing voices full of power and subtlety. Lani Toyama Hoskins' rendition of Sarah's alcohol induced "If I Were A Bell" is funny and seductive. Their "chemistry" is evident from that point on. But after the wild Havana night is over, it's J. Simmons' beautiful interpretation of "My Time of Day" that makes Sarah realize she loves Sky. The first act culminates with the heartfelt duet "I've Never Been In Love Before" sung in rich, lush tones.
In contrast to the flowering of young love, Nathan and Adelaide have been engaged for fourteen years. Scott Shriner as Nathan is a joy to watch as he squirms, manipulates and struggles with the truth. His acting is natural and possesses great comic timing. Laura Jean Diekmann is equally adept as the ditzy but sincere Adelaide. The audience is drawn to their struggle and roots for them to make it. Their rendering of "Sue Me" expresses the passion, frustration, hurt and love that make up a complicated, mature relationship.
The big production numbers had to be modified to fit the limitations of space and cast size; however, both "Luck Be A Lady" and "Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat" are well performed and effective. J. Simmons delivers an edgy interpretation of "Luck Be A Lady" as he wills the dice to win souls. Alvis Green Jr. lights up the stage as he belts out "Sit Down You're Rockin' The Boat." From the Hot Box Girls to the gambling mugs, the entire cast is talented. Tom Racculia as Benny and Alvis Green Jr. as Nicely, Nicely channel the Bowery Boys and Three Stooges. Their banter and shenanigans delight the audience. Other highlights include "Fugue For Tinhorns" (Tom Racculia, Scott Shutts, and Alvis Green, Jr.) and Arvide's (Steve Valvano) soulful and sweet "More I Cannot Wish You."
Blackfriars' GUYS AND DOLLS sparkles with energy, humor and romantic zeal. It adroitly pays homage to the greatness of this iconic musical theatre masterwork. It is an excellent first act to the 70th anniversary season and leaves the audience anticipating the upcoming theatrical magic.
GUYS AND DOLLS runs until September 15th. For ticket information click here.
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