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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2016 5 years ago

Music review: 'Guys and Dolls'

Asolo Rep's production was authentic and musically faithful in every way.
by: Edward Alley Contributor

Since its original Broadway opening in 1950, “Guys and Dolls” has seen several Broadway revivals, a 1955 movie — which cut five songs from the original score and added three new ones — and a mind-boggling number of community, high-school and college productions. Its charm seldom wanes, especially when given such a slick, thoughtful and accurate professional revival by Asolo Rep in its season opener.

In this production, all of Loesser’s fine original score and lyrics are intact and sparkling, reminding us again of how well crafted the show is musically, with every song fitting the situation perfectly in both lyrics and melody. The opening “Runyonland,” serves also as an overture, providing all the hustle and bustle of that era’s Times Square characters, together with snippets of the songs to come. And the “Fugue for Tinhorns,” an all-time favorite of mine, is a reminder that only with music can you have three people expressing three thoughts at the same time and still be understandable. Think of the “Rigoletto” Quartet or the Sextet from “Lucia.”

The nine-piece orchestra, ably led by Sinai Tabak, sounded larger and quite complete, using no synthesized sounds (no doubt in respect of the show’s vintage) and the use of a French horn provided additional warmth. Tabak alternately led and accompanied the singers beautifully with a mostly excellent balance, while giving his band pretty much free rein in the big dance numbers.  Sound design and amplification of singers by Kevin Kennedy was subtle and sympathetic, without any of the blasting forth we hear all too often in the theater, even on Broadway.

“Guys and Dolls” is from the era of “legit” Broadway singing, as opposed to the often harsh, loud and somewhat ugly sounds produced and seemingly demanded by shows and writing these days. These performers all sang — and sang well — especially the two female leads, Audrey Campbell as Sarah Brown and Veronica J. Keuhn as Miss Adelaide. 

These vigorously talented ladies gave us all we wanted and more: Campbell, showed a lovely soprano in “ I’ll Know,” and later knocked us for a loop with “If I Were a Bell.” Keuhn’s Miss Adelaide really delivers the goods in her featured numbers, “Adelaide’s Lament,” “Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink.” 

Wisely choosing to have just a good, basic "New Yawk" accent, rather than exaggerated Brooklynese, she caught Adelaide’s mood and character perfectly. Chris Hoch’s Nathan Detroit and Todd Buonopane as Nicely-Nicely Johnson were outstanding among the men, both in character and voice, while Cole Burden’s Skye Masterson offered  good voice and style — but with a bit too much of a cartoonish Brando-like tilt of the jaw for my taste. Diction and phrasing were good throughout, and the mostly male chorus provided a virile husky sound in the big numbers. 

The “Eleven O’Clock Number,” the last big number of any show before the final scene, was a blockbuster rendering of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” delivered with mucho gusto by Buonopane and the chorus, aided and abetted by the soaring soprano of Fredena J. Williams as General Cartwright, reminding me of Loesser’s “Brotherhood of Man” from his later “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

All in all, a delightful evening, musically faithful in every way, even to the retention of “Hollander-izing” in Adelaide’s “Mink” number, a then process for cleaning and preserving furs. Now that’s authentic!

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