BWW Review: Dolls Steal The Show In GUYS AND DOLLS at Arizona Broadway Theatre
Dolls steal the show in GUYS AND DOLLS at Arizona Broadway Theatre
"Guys And Dolls" at Arizona Broadway Theatre is a perfect sendup to the golden age of musical theatre, offering an evening full of highlights that you are unlikely to find anywhere else in The Valley. If you haven't been to Arizona Broadway Theatre in Peoria, I beg the question, why not? ABT, now in its 14th season, has earned a reputation for producing musical theatre of the highest caliber. Created and run by the husband and wife duo Kiel and Cassandra Klaphake, this state of the art venue provides what I have heard referred to as "the best new theatre space this side of the Mississippi." Everything was built with modern theatergoers in mind. From the spacious lobby -- equipped with an indoor ticket counter, full bar and lounging space to accommodate the large main stage audience -- to the newly renovated large Encore room cleverly crafted to serve as a second performance venue and conference room, everything has been thoughtfully designed.
There is no doubt that ABT provides some of the best professional theatre in Arizona, but what sets them apart is the way they've turned their shows into full evening experiences. It is a one stop shop that excels in everything you need for an incredible night out. You enter the beautiful theatre, where an usher escorts you to your dining table. Known as the "ABT Experience," the company touts that "two art forms take center stage." Act I is "Dining: The Art of Culinary Creativity," while Act II is "The Art of Theatrical Excellence," and ABT delivers on all accounts. With a house that opens two hours prior to curtain, ABT offers the only gourmet dining and professional live theatre combo in Arizona, all offered from the comfort of your table. The wait staff is always en pointe, and the menu, neatly attached in your playbill as a pull out centerfold, is always new, exciting, and delicious. I personally recommend the Grilled Chicken with Dr. Pepper BBQ Sauce! Once you've had your drinks, corn bread muffins (to die for), appetizers, first course, and entrée, you're pleasantly stuffed and ready for the real magic to begin.
Lights come up on the large stage, presenting a massive angular backdrop reminiscent of Lichtenstein pop art with polkadots and bold colors, designed by Joseph C. Klug. The pit, lead by the show's endlessly talented Music Director Mark 4man, sets the mood with spot on style and energy. Directed and choreographed by Jim Christian, it is clear within the first number that Christian has a real knack and respect for the golden age genre, and his cast follows along with committed enthusiasm. Good ol' fashion fun from beginning to end, this true ensemble show has a cast full of lively characters and exciting group numbers. With hits like "Luck Be A Lady," "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat," and "Adelaide's Lament," how can you not leave the theatre with a smile on your face? In truth, the entire 1950s score by Frank Loesser is filled with one hit after another, reminding the audience of the impact this show has had on the theatre and pop culture scene.
In a nutshell, the show follows two gamblers, Nathan Detroit who attempts to find a location to house his floating crap game, and Sky Masterson as he tries to win a $1,000 bet by taking the Sergeant of the Save-A-Soul Mission on a date to Havana. Nathan and Sky are played ably by the adorable, thinly mustached John Cardenas and the smooth singing Sam Hartley, respectively. Both give solid performances, but the real standouts of the show are the women. Miss Adelaide, Nathan's long time fiancée and star performer at the Hot Box Nightclub, is played to perfection by the stunning Caelan Creaser. Creaser has the wide-eyed energy and blinding smile of Julia Roberts combined with top notch top dancing and singing chops to boot. In heels she towers over the rest of the cast, but her height comes in second to her sheer charisma, the kind of stage presence that immediately grabs your attention and holds you until the lights go out. Creaser's performance is matched only by the golden voiced Trisha Hart Ditsworth, who plays the steadfast Sarah Brown, Sergeant of the Save-A-Soul Mission and Sky's love interest. Ditsworth is one of the most talented and dependable performers in the valley, and has proven herself time and time again as the queen of golden age. Her voice soars in songs like "I'll Know" and "If I Were A Bell." Along with having the strongest voice in the cast, Ditsworth has the uncanny ability to combine stuffiness and humor, making her Sarah Brown one of the strongest I've seen. Creaser and Ditsworth don't outshine their counterparts, which they are more than capable of doing, but rather they elevate the performances of their scene partners, and indeed, the rest of the ensemble. Each scene becomes more focused, funny, and honest when they are present. And, when the two ladies finally meet at the end of the second act for "Marry The Man Today," the result is golden age at its finest.
The male ensemble is full of great dancers and character actors, including the ever hilarious Matthew Mello as gangster Nicely-Nicely Johnson, who stops the show with his version of "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat." Doug Botnick provides a sweetly understated performance as Arvide Abernathy, Sarah Brown's grandfather, and his rendition of "More I Cannot Wish You" was the most genuine, heartfelt moment of the night. The female ensemble, much like their leading players, are stellar. Every Hot Box number is better than the one before it. Major kudos go to costume designer Kathleen Trott and wig designer Amanda Gran, who gave a much needed pop at every turn -- especially when it came to Miss Adelaide's multiple changes. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production design across the board is of such high quality, I'm constantly excited to see what they do next.
Christian's direction is more than adequate, but often times speeds past the comedy of the piece, and the jokes fall by the wayside, a common problem with golden age musicals. What he loses in laughs, however, he makes up for with momentum, acrobatic choreography, and outright star power from his female leads. The show might feel dated to modern audiences, but if you're looking for a throwback to simpler times, a first rate score, and a delicious meal, "Guys And Dolls" at Arizona Broadway Theatre is calling your name. Running now until May 26th.
ABT BOX OFFICE: 623-776-8400 (Mon - Sat: 10AM - 5PM, Sun: 11PM - 3PM)
Matinees (Sat, Sun, select Thurs): Dinner Seating, 12PM, Show Curtain, 2PM.
Evenings (Tues-Sun): Dinner Seating, 5:30PM, Show Curtain, 7:30PM