If you want to know why Cabrillo Music Theatre was the most honored company at last year’s Ovation Awards ceremony, winning six crystal trophies for their productions of Jekyll & Hyde and Singin’ In The Rain, check out their equally award-worthy revival of Frank Loesser’s Broadway classic Guys And Dolls. With musical theater director extraordinaire Nick DeGruccio at the helm, Broadway-worthy choreography by Roger Castellano, an all-around terrific cast of twenty-nine, and a sensational design team, this Guys And Dolls proves just how great CMT has become under President/CEO Carole W. Nussbaum and artistic director Louis Wilkenfeld.
It helps to have proven material to work with. Though I must confess to Guys And Dolls not being one of my all-time favorite musicals of the 1950s, its six Broadway productions to date prove its track record as a crowd-pleaser. Based on a story and characters created by Damon Runyon, adapted for the musical stage by songwriter Loesser and book writers Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, Guys And Dolls brings to musical life Runyon’s colorful denizens of post WWII Times Square, and a picturesque cast of characters these folk are.
There’s high-rolling gambler Sky Masterson (Jeff Griggs), who wagers he can convince virginal Save-A-Soul Mission “Doll” Sarah Brown (Jessica Bernard) to join him on an overnighter to Havana . There’s feckless but lovable gambler Nathan Detroit (Barry Pearl), always on the lookout for a new venue for the “oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York.” Meanwhile, Nathan’s fourteen-year-long engagement to Miss Adelaide (Alet Taylor), headline dancer at the Hot Box Nightclub, has been going on for so long that it has caused poor Adelaide a psychosomatic cold, quite possibly one of the longest on record. Among the small-time gamblers who populate “Runyonland” are Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Nova Safo), Benny Southstreet (Mike McLean), and Rusty Charlie (David Scales) whose three-part “Fugue For Tinhorns” not only expresses their devotion to sniffing out today’s winning horse, but starts Guys And Dolls out with a three-part harmony bang. Providing a giant-sized whiff of comic menace is mountainous Chicago kingpin Big Jule (Danny Blaylock), with a towering frame and a big desire to win, which he makes sure to do by using dice that “ain’t got no spots.” (He remembers where the dots were).
Will Sky be able to persuade Sarah to fly with him to Cuba ? Will Nathan take advantage of the couple’s absence to hold tonight’s crap game inside the Save-A-Soul mission? Will Miss Adelaide convince Nathan to marry her and in so doing, finally get over her cold? Will Sarah find out Sky’s real name?
There’s nary a musical theater aficionado who doesn’t know the answers to these questions, and even those who’ve never seen Guys And Dolls can probably win their own bet by correctly guessing the answers. The pleasures in Guys And Dolls are not plot-related, but in the memorable characters which Runyon created and which performers have relished bringing to life for the past fifty-nine years, as well as in the show’s many song standards and production numbers, which won Michael Kidd a 1950 Best Choreography Tony and provide CMT’s Castellano and his stellar dance ensemble with ample opportunities to strut their stuff.
My favorite Frank Loesser Guys And Dolls songs are the upbeat, dancy ones like “The Oldest Established,” “Guys And Dolls,” “Havana” (with its sexy Latin steps), “Luck Be A Lady,” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat,” each an every on a Castellano choreography + CMT dancers showstopper. Then there are the sparkling specialty numbers performed by Miss Adelaide and the Hot Box Girls–”Bushel And A Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink,” the latter featuring a hilarious G-rated society doll striptease. “Adelaide’s Lament” has allowed Adelaide-after-Adelaide the kind of applause that usually signals an award nomination or two, especially when followed by Nathan and Adelaide’s show-stopping “Sue Me.”
I wish I could love Loesser’s ballads more. Though “I’ll Know,” “My Time Of Day,” “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” and “More I Cannot Wish You” are standards, I personally find them among the blandest standards around. So “Sue Me.” The more upbeat “If I Were A Bell” and “Marry The Man Today” are far more to my liking.
On the other hand, there’s not a weak link in Cabrillo’s cast. Griggs makes for a handsome, sexy romantic hero, and it’s easy to see why the excellent Bernard’s Sarah would fall for him. (Both performers sing gorgeously, whether alone or in tandem.) Pearl is never less than marvelous as Nathan Detroit, a part he was born to play the heck out of. Taylor is a delightfully quirky Miss Adelaide, and can belt with the best of them. Safo makes Nicely Nicely very much his own, very much his own, not easy to do when you’re following Broadway and the movie’s Stubby Kaye. The inimitable Farley Cadena makes the very most of her cameo as General Cartwright and Paul Zegler (Arvide) displays a lovely tenor in “More I Cannot Wish You.” McLean, Blaylock, Scales, Ronald Rezac (Lt. Brannigan), and Jay Weber (Harry The Horse) make vivid impressions as well.
Completing the cast as assorted gamblers, Hot Box Girls, Save-A-Soulers, and other New Yorkers are the all around sensational Jebbel Arce (Rosie), Marc Bastos (Sleepout Sam Levinsky), Paul Berry (Brandy Bottle Bates), Cory Bretsch (The Greek), Johnny Cannizzaro (Joey Biltmore/Johnny One Eye), Heather Castillo (Lulu/Dance Captain), Andreas De Rond (Scranton Slim), Jeff Ditto (Frankie Fingers/MC), Jennifer Foster (Agatha), Jantré Haskin Christian (Martha), Kat Liz Kramer (Laverne), Alida Michal (Mimi), Sabrina Miller (Trixie), Clay Stefanki (Society Max), Erica Strong (Betty), Bobby Traversa (Calvin/Willy The Worrier), and Estevan Valdes (Liver Lips Louie). Most of the above are involved in choreographer Castellano’s exciting, challenging choreography, with nothing having been “dumbed down” for these terrific dancers.
Down in the pit, music director Darryl Archibald conducts the seventeen-piece Guys And Dolls orchestra, the equal of any found on Broadway, and the production’s sets (provided by Premier Sets) are some of the most gorgeous I’ve seen in a CLO production. The same can be said of the iridescent-hued late-1940s costumes originally designed by Tommy Marquez and supervised here by Christine Gibson, and the show’s great period hair and makeup, designed by Paul Hadobas. With Jared A. Sayeg designing lighting and Jonathan Burke doing the same for sound, Cabrillo has insured that this Guys And Dolls could not look or sound better.
There’s only one drawback in this and other Cabrillo Music Theatre productions, and that is Guys And Dolls’ all too brief two-weekend run. Only a few performances remain, all the more reason for lovers of classic Broadway musical theater to head on up to Thousand Oaks and catch Sky and Sarah and Nathan and Miss Adelaide–either that or sing your own personal version of “Adelaide’s Lament” for having missed this memorable return to Runyonland.
Cabrillo Music Theatre, Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Thousand Oaks. www.cabrillomusictheatre.com
October 18, 2009
Photos: Ed Krieger