Show: Guys & Dolls

At: The Belfry Theatre, Noblesville IN

Director: Elaine Wagner

Seen: Saturday, June 12, 2010 (Second weekend)

Guys & Dolls is one of American theatre’s more stalwart productions. First produced on Broadway nearly 60 years ago, and revived numerous times, it is the brainchild of Frank Loesser, who wrote the lyrics and music, and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, who wrote the book based on two stories by Damon Runyon, “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” (1933) and “Blood Pressure” (1930).

 My personal exposure to the show is having seen a high school production about 8 years ago in which my niece played the part of Miss Adelaide and seeing the 1955 movie which starred Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson and Frank Sinatra as Nathan Detroit.

 The Belfry Theatre’s production, directed by Elaine Wagner, produced by Frank Hindes, choreographed by Carol Snider, with Vocal Direction by Julie Buck and Music by Lauren Butz, fits nicely between the two previous experiences. The show is a community theatre smash hit, with sold-out performances in the 100+ seats auditorium every weekend. The schedule includes two shows on Saturdays and the success has resulted in an added show on Thursday June 17th at 8pm.

 (Let me pause here to allow you the opportunity to call for reservations before finishing this review – call 317-773-1085. And good luck getting a seat!)

 Led by four remarkably talented leads, Brenna Campbell as Sister Sarah Brown, Clint Pridgen as Sky Masterson, Maggie Herrington as Miss Adelaide, and Mark Tumey as Nathan Detroit, the show pleases the audience throughout. Lending fine support to the effort are Duane Leatherman as a kindly Arvide Abernathy, Susan Townsend in great form as General Cartwright and Jimmy Mitchell as a memorable, just-right Nicely-Nicely Johnson.

Back to the leads for a moment – I have auditioned Brenna Campbell for a show (Rabbit Hole) and could tell that she was a very accomplished actress, but I have to say – her versatility as a strong singer, and as a wonderful romantic comedy actress had not shown then. She was wonderful as Sarah, with nuanced reaction, especially while being sung to by another character. I was very impressed! She gave an inspired performance.

 Clint Pridgen, I have seen before. His turn as The Engineer in Footlite’s production of Miss Saigon was beyond memorable. He showed such strong presence on stage, he had so much energy to put into his role, it took your breathe away. Pridgen shines again as Sky Masterson, a role he has done twice before. There is an effortlessness about his portrayal. There is the obvious familiarity of it – but there is more. Pridgen conveys the sureness of Masterson because he IS sure. It is a quality to be noted and appreciated. And his singing is strong and true and right for any moment. It is a pleasure to watch and I look forward to seeing him in a next production.

I know Mark Tumey, from other shows and classes. But I did not know the Mark Tumey I saw tonight. He absolutely rocked as Nathan Detroit! The mustache, the accent, the affectations, all fit so well. Mark somehow sidestepped caricature and formed for us a genuine “guy”, with all the vulnerabilities of a man under considerable pressure, juggling his life, in love with a fine “doll”, and still, not knowing how any of it is going to turn out. It was a real treat – a thrilling performance.

 As big a treat as Mark was as Nathan Detroit, Maggie Herrington’s Miss Adelaide was a double scoop with chocolate sauce and a cherry on the top. I have never had the pleasure of seeing Ms. Herrington on stage, but she showed a comic talent and timing that is rare to see. Anyone who left the theatre not totally enthralled with her Adelaide must have been asleep. She is a fine talent and I have to say, I cannot imagine anyone doing a better job in that part than I saw her do last night. There was comic genius in her words and in her songs.

 Congratulations to Ms. Wagner for taking on such a huge project in such a small venue. I have done shows at the Belfry and it is normally of adequate size, but honestly there were times when the show suffered from its confines.

 A case in point: set changes. Admittedly, I am a big stickler for fast changes. They can be designed to fit most shows just as a set is designed to fit the stage. I am aware of the hurdles here, no fly gallery, limited wing space – but keeping an audience sitting in the dark, listening to a quiet rehash of the song they just heard, or worse yet, nothing at all, is a crime against theatre.

 I thought the set design itself was ingenious. There were panels that opened and holes appeared to render what had been a street scene into an interior, or a sewer. The set worked great. But the changes were slow, especially in the first act.

 Surprisingly the problems regarding set changes nearly disappeared in the second act, and that was due to having certain scenes played in front of the curtain, while the changes took place behind it. This was a wonderful solution and I wondered just why it wasn’t employed in the first act.

 The only other difficulty that I think the show had was one that is just seems to be a part of doing community theatre, especially musicals in community theatre. And that is not having a full cadre of dancers. In the male corps there were two dancers recognized as featured dancers: Zach Donovan and Bradley Allen Lowe. And they were good. But in a number like “Crapshooter’s Ballet”, the use of a large number of untrained dancers in a complicated choreography as was set upon them only emphasizes the lack of training. In my opinion, the number should have been cut. Or the two featured dancers should have handled a greater amount of the movement.

Regarding the female corps, I can go along with the idea of ladies, some of whom are past their 20s, playing a team of dancers in a place like the Hot-Box. It added character to the show and put the Hot-Box on a more interesting level where the dolls were all “pros”.

 Just a reminder to many of you who are reading my impressions for the first time. I started this blog to try to give a more honest set of opinions about what is good about local theatre and what might be done to change or even correct some of the flaws. The opinions are all my own. And you may take them as seriously or as furiously as you wish. I only mean to give an outsider’s view. I understand that the participants in a show hold it dear. That is a wonderful part of the whole theatre experience. But I come to view the show with all my theatre experiences behind me and influencing me and I try to impress upon the reader what my eyes saw and my brain registered. It may very well vary from what you have experienced.

 To sum up – this show is honestly a very good show. The high energy of the cast, the fine voices of all the principals, the great story the script tells…don’t miss it. The production continues for only one more weekend, plus a special Thursday night performance. Call 317-773-1085 for information and reservations – and HURRY!

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