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BWW Review: GUYS AND DOLLS at Palm Canyon Theatre

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BWW Review: GUYS AND DOLLS at Palm Canyon Theatre

Guys and Dolls is possibly the most frequently produced musical in the world. Since its Broadway debut in 1950, it has had numerous revivals on Broadway and the West End, and it has been tackled by just about every high school, college, and community theatre in the world. Fortunately, its popularity is justified, and it might become a lot more popular in Palm Springs because of the production currently playing at the Palm Canyon Theatre. It has filled the house and been greeted with a standing ovation almost every performance in its first two weeks.

Based on newspaperman Damon Runyon's tales of the colorful denizens of midtown Manhattan after dark, Guys and Dolls has one couple as romantic leads and another as comic leads. We first meet the comic couple: Nathan Detroit (Paul Grant), an organizer of floating crap games, and his girlfriend of 14 years, Miss Adelaide (Se Layne), a loveable lass whose lack of talent is only exceeded by her lack of brainpower. Grant and Layne had the PCT audience eating out of their hands, and both take opportunities to show off their musical theatre chops as well as making their characters lovable.

The more romantic couple is Sky Masterson (Nicholas Sloan) and Sarah Brown (Jamie Leigh Walker). When Nathan needs $1,000 to pay for a location for his crap game, he bets Sky that he can't date Sarah, the "doll" who leads the local mission (think Salvation Army, though that organization is never mentioned). Never one to lose a bet, Sky sets his sites on Sarah, but then ends up actually falling in love with her. That relationship is more important to him than the bet. Sloan and Walker have the beautiful romantic ballads in the show, and their voices - both individually and combined - could easily fill a concert hall. "I'll Know" and "I've Neve Been in Love Before," their two big duets, are showstoppers. It adds an extra kick to their performances to acknowledge that they have been married to each other for a couple of years now, following his proposal to her onstage at PCT during the curtain calls following a performance.

The style and period of the show is set from the very beginning by brightly costumed gamblers singing "Fugue for Tinhorns," a celebration of horseracing. As soon as that number finishes, we hear a troop of missionaries enter, singing "Follow the Fold," a plea for sinners to stray no more, and voila, the major conflict of the evening is set.

Director Derik Shopinski tapped the theatre's A-List for additional roles. Ben Reece, a perennial favorite, plays Benny Southstreet, one of the gamblers. Although he delivers everything possible to the role, we're used to enjoying more solo work from him. Jacob Samples, another company favorite, joins Reece for several gambler numbers in the first act, including the title song, but then he gets his own spotlight for the 11 o'clock number, "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," and he rocks the entire theatre with that jubilant number. Jacob is blessed with a great sense of comedy, and a voice that seems to deliver just about anything he asks of it. Tom Warrick, another familiar PCT face, played the head of the mission with a quiet determination - he has banged his bass drum for decades - but then he shows great warmth with his number, "More I Cannot Wish You." Alan Berry is also memorable as Lt. Brannigan, the police detective determined to halt the crap game.

The Ensemble Company members display individual personalities as gamblers, missionaries, and showgirls. Derik Shopinski's costumes and Mado Nunez's wigs immediately set the period, and the red of the mission staff's uniforms was gorgeous. Also, Se Layne's dresses and hats as Miss Adelaide were outstanding! Putting every gambler in a different loud plaid wasn't my favorite choice because the individually loud suits didn't work when viewed all together. I think maybe a couple of strong single-colored suits would have helped.

Kirsten Cunningham's set took advantage of the small stage, transforming it to Times Square. Since the theatre has very little wing space, she smartly designed the pieces so that the onstage elements rotated and unfolded to become new locations. However, she added an upstairs balcony above several of the stores and a practical interior to a newsstand, each of which were just used very briefly. They looked like they were going to become important, but never did.

Musical Director Steven Smith played the score live at the piano, joined by Larry Holloway on bass and David Bronson on drums.

As a disclaimer, my name appears in the program as Master of Ceremonies. I only recorded some introductions for the night club scene from my home studio. I did not actually appear in the production, and never saw one minute of rehearsals.

Guys and Dolls plays two more weekends, through February 10. The company is also trying something new, which is such a wonderful idea that it blows my mind. They are producing a youth theatre version of Guys and Dolls on Wednesday evenings and Saturday afternoons, January 30 through February 9. This gives the kids an opportunity to work on the mainstage with a full set, costumes, lighting and sound. It's interesting to note that Nicholas Sloan started with PCT as a teenager. Now, he is a Broadway-ready leading man. Nurturing these young performers is a terrific plan, and deserves audience support.

Tickets and further information for the adult and youth productions are available at www.PalmCanyonTheatre.org, or 760-323-5123. A special benefit concert called From Broadway with Love will be presented on February 5, and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas plays February 22 - March 10.

Photo by Paul Hayashi


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