BWW Review: GUYS & DOLLS at Urbandale Community Theatre
Community theatres that produce one show a year always face the question of whether to choose a risky contemporary show or a well-known classic. On one hand, if successful, the contemporary piece could bring in a new audience and be a large success. On the other, classics usually please masses and are usually the safer pick. Urbandale Community Theatre has not only chosen the safer pick for the past two decades but is dedicated to producing a classic show for the entire Des Moines community each summer. This year's pick is Guys & Dolls, the roaring 1950 show with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, which is a popular choice for community theatres around the US. Fortunately, Urbandale Community Theatre's production does not fall into the gimmicky traps of other versions and presents the classic with enough heart and freshness to make the audience forget that they've seen this show dozens of times.
Of course, Guys & Dolls takes place on the streets of 1930s New York City where gamblers roam looking for illegal crap games while trying to please their dolls. The main players include crap-game-organizer Nathan Detroit (Adam Beligard), his fiancé of fourteen years and nightclub performer Adelaide (Allyson Martens), seasoned gambler Skye Masterson (Michael Boal), and Save-a-Soul Mission Sergeant Sarah Brown (Dani Boal). The story follows each couple falling in and out of love while the supporting cast of gamblers and hotbox dancers each do their own thing. If all of this sounds familiar, you've probably seen your high school or community theatre do it, the 1955 movie starring Marlon Brando and Sinatra, or just have heard some of the famous tunes.
How then can you make such a well-known classic fresh? Urbandale Community Theatre's production, directed by Micheal Davenport who returns from last year, leaves the gimmicky parts of the show to the comedic characters and makes the hardened gamblers a little more serious than in other productions. Michael Boal's cool and calm Skye Masterson plays well against some of the funnier gamblers, and Adam Beligard's Nathan is a much more down-on-his-luck and realistic character who, although loves Adelaide, can't seem to commit to marrying her. Both leading men sing and perform well while making the audience root for the happy endings of both couples. Balancing out these more grounded performances are Greg Millar as Nicely-Nicely Johnson (who carries on and at least six different types of food on stage) and Brett Spahr as Benny Southstreet who get to ham it up throughout the show. A high point of the first act is the titular song that both characters sing with tight harmonies and big heart that receives a large reaction from the crowd.
Also making the production fresh are the leading women. Dani Boal, who won a Cloris Award for her portrayal of Belle in Urbandale Community Theatre's Beauty and The Beast last summer, is tasked with the tricky role of Sarah Brown. Sarah must be stern at the start of the show but still invite the audience in to make the rest of the show sit right. Boal accomplishes this task with charm and a soprano voice that was not showcased in last summer's show. A standout number is "If I Were A Bell" where Sarah gets to let loose on a date in Havana with Skye, and Boal gets to show off her belting, growling, and high notes. Allyson Martens is perfectly cast as the over the top Adelaide who performs several nightclub numbers and laments that Nathan won't commit. Martens performs with the perfect mix of comedy, heartfelt longing, and classic Adelaide squeakiness that makes her famous "Adelaide's Lament" a hilarious and meaningful song in the first act.
The entire ensemble keeps the energy moving in this long show. Adelaide's supporting dancers at the nightclub show off their strong tapping (returning Lorainna Nedved choreographs) and comedic chops in the hotbox numbers that nicely lift the male dominated show. This production also remains fresh, as the supporting men actually support the show (sometimes not present in community theatre productions of Guys & Dolls) with much dancing and singing talent. At certain times the show does drag a bit, such as when all the men are gambling for what seems like ages in act two. The audience, mostly knowing what the story is, can check out at these moments and come back when more exciting things occur. When the whole company sings act two's famous "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat" with Greg Millar's leading vocals (returning Renée Davenport music directs) with the full orchestra that sits on stage throughout the show (returning Carl Johnson conducts), the audience can't help but grin and see why Guys & Dolls has excited audiences for years.
The technical aspects of the production are the tightest Urbandale Community Theatre has presented in years. The creative scenic design by Nicholas Amundson both sparks ideas of 1930s New York along with changing up the classic Guys & Dolls set with a grid-like fixture separating the orchestra from cast that represents an aerial view of the gridded NYC streets. Technical Director Rick Manion utilizes colored lights on a white backing that easily allows the show's various settings to shine.
Although Urbandale Community Theatre's dedication to producing classic shows may be safer than putting on contemporary pieces, a classic must be done in a fresh way in order to convince the audience that the show must be seen. This production remains fresh enough to receive that seal of approval and entertains in spite of certain scenes that slow down the action. I will say that I wish Urbandale Community Theatre would sometimes be riskier in its selection of show, but Guys & Dolls convinces me enough that classics are here to stay.
Guys & Dolls
Urbandale Community Theatre
July 21 -23 and 28 - 30, 2017