Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, August, 1999
There are pros and cons to the production of “Guys and Dolls” currently running at the Theater Barn. The pros come mostly from sudden bursts of talent and energy from the cast. The cons lie squarely at the feet of director and choreographer Terry Berliner who has failed to utilize or channel that talent and energy. The result is a lack-luster staging of a relatively bullet proof show.
The casting is very odd indeed. Neither of the leading men – Tom Cleary as Nathan Detroit and Aaron Schurgin as Sky Masterson – has any particular spark. Cleary sings beautifully, but Nathan is not really a singing role. Sky Masterson is a singing role, but Schurgin can barely warble. He is also way too young, but he bears a small resembalance to Marlon Brando, who had the part in the movie. Brando can’t sing either, but he’s Marlon Brando, which counts for a lot, or at least it did in those days. Hint to casting directors: its better to go with someone who can act and sing than someone who bears a vague resembalance to the guy in the film.
Natasha Burr who plays Miss Adelaide has obviously spent a great deal of time watching reruns of “The Carol Burnett Show” because she does a dead-on Nora Desmond face. She can also belt like Burnett, but she, like many in the cast seem to be holding back. She could have really let it rip in “Adelaide’s Lament”. She could have brought the house down. Instead her performance of that most wonderful of comic numbers was merely entertaining.
Kim Steger sings nicely as Sargeant Sarah Brown of the Save-A-Soul Mission, but her character development is non-existent. But the time she sings “Marry the Man Today” with Adelaide you are completely confused. What happened to the uptight mission doll?
And then there’s the set. Or the lack of it. The Theater Barn does not have a big stage, so they do best with one set shows. “Guys and Dolls” is set all over Manhattan and in Havana, Cuba. Theater Barn set deisgner Jay Ennis was not up to the challenge. The show’s most famous setting is the sewer where Nathan’s famous floating crap game ends up. For some reason, instead of bringing in a backdrop or changing the lighting, Ennis has everyone bring step ladders on stage. Why? No one uses a step ladder to get down into the sewer, and therefore no one uses them to get back out.
Furthermore, one of the ladders got caught on the backdrop representing Havana, which then became stuck on some nails projecting from the back wall and refused to go away. So not only are we supposed to imagine that this bare stage with a faux brick back wall and lots of stepladders is the New York sewer, but we had Havana in the back ground. Havana aboslutely wouldn’t leave, it clung to the back wall scene after scene, song after song. Finally one of the taller actors leapt up and disengaged it from the wall. He received the second biggest hand of the evening.
The biggest hand belonged to John Hellyer as Nicely-Nicely Johnson. His rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” just jumped out and rocked my world. It was a wonderful moment of real theatre, when a talented singer took a great song and made it his own. Hellyer has been doing chorus work and second banana roles most of the summer, we haven’t really heard sing solo since “Stardust”. I hope I see and hear him again soon.
I also hope to see more of John Heinis, who really should have been cast as Nathan Detroit, even though he has just come off of two exhausting star turns as Jesus in “Godspell” and the Sid Caesar roles in “Little Me”. Heinis is a funny guy. Pairing him with Burr’s Adelaide would have been a really winning combination.
“Guys and Dolls” runs through September 5 at the The Theater Barn on Route 20 just west of downtown New Lebanon, NY. The show runs two and a half hours with one intermission. Call the box office at 518-794-8989 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999