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San Francisco by Richard Connema

A Rousing Production of Guys And Dolls

Also see Richard's review of Dangerous Corner

Foothill Music Theatre finishes its 2003 season with a bang-up production of Frank Loesser, Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling's classic musical Guys and Dolls. When any musical theater historian talks about the great musicals of the past, I am sure this bubbly musical is always mentioned. I can’t remember how many times I have seen Guys and Dolls since I first witnessed the original on Broadway with Robert Alda, Isabel Bigley, Vivian Blaine, Sam Levine and Stubby Kaye in 1951. A young Peter Gennaro was a dancer in the cast of Runyonesque characters. The show ran 1200 performances. I also saw Jerry Orbach as Sky Masterson at City Center in 1965; Alan King, Anita Gillette and Sheila MacRae were in this revival cast. There was an all black version which ran 239 performances in 1977 at the Broadway Theatre with Robert Guillaume playing Sky Masterson.

The last time I saw the show in New York was the famed revival in 1992 with Peter Gallagher, Nathan Lane, Faith Prince and Josie de Guzman. I have witnessed two productions at the Royal National Theatre in London, and they did terrific presentations of an American musical. The late Ian Charleson played Sky in both productions. Bob Hoskins was Nathan Detroit in the 1982 version while Harry Goodman played the role in the 1995 revival. There have been many tours, including one disastrous version presented by the Los Angeles-San Francisco Civic Light Opera that featured Milton Berle as Nathan Detroit (the night I saw this production at the Orpheum there were only 60 persons in the audience - I remember Milton looking out from the stage at the audience and saying, “Small crowd, but a nice one”).

Cy Feuer (who was the music director for Republic pictures when I worked there) and Ernest Marin originally wanted Guys and Dolls to be a serious musical, like South Pacific. They went through 11 librettists before they decided it should be a comedy and as a result the musical has received what might be the most unanimously ecstatic series of reviews in Broadway history. The stage version has won 15 Tony Awards and the 1955 film won two Golden Globe and four Academy Award nominations. Some consider this is Frank Loesser best work. I certainly do. .

Guys and Dolls
C.J. Blankenship (center) and Guys

Guys and Dolls revolves around Nathan Detroit (Tim Reynolds), the organizer of the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York, who bets fellow gamble Sky Masterson (Carmichael Blankenship) that Sky can’t make the next girl he see fall in love with him. The next girl happens to be Miss Sarah Brown (Keite Davis), a pure at heart Salvation Army type reformer. The stage is now set for a hilarious evening of complications.

Foothill Music Theatre, under the capable direction of Jay Manley, has revitalized Guys and Dolls with a large cast, great orchestra and terrific sets. It’s vigorous, booming and exciting to see the large cast of singers and dancers on stage. Manley has given us a sense of what the original production was like. The songs are seamlessly integrated into the whimsical book. The large orchestra under the direction of Catherine Snider starts out a little flat, but about halfway through the overture, they are right on target (The 88 degree heat the day we saw it may have been part of the reason for that).

The opening ballet sequence of various New York characters jetting around Times Square is excellent, thanks to choreography by Tyler Risk. The opening “Fugue for Tinhorns” with Nicely-Nicely Johnson (John Brown), Benny Southstreet (Chris Ferejohn) and Rusty Charlie (Manuel Caneri) is sung in perfect harmony. Karen DeHart gives a very funny performance as Adelaide with her squeaky Brooklyn accent. The comic is a delight when singing “Adelaide’s Lament” and when heading those fun-loving Hot Box Girls in “Take Back Your Mink.” Tim Reynolds is wonderful as the loveable, bumbling Nathan Detroit. He especially shines when he is trapped into shooting craps against the menacing Big Jule, played delightfully by Doug Brees. DeHart and Reynolds are balanced well together with a certain edge.

Carmichael Blankenship and Keite Davis are also well balanced as Sky and Sarah. The dark and handsome Blankenship looks the part of Sky and has a rich voice, especially in “Luck Be a Lady” and “My Time of Day.” Ms. Davis has a honeyed voice when she sings “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” and If I Were a Bell.” John Brown nicely plays Nicely-Nicely, and he is outstanding in the “Sit Down, You’re Rockin' the Boat.” John Musgrave as Arvide Abernathy does a charming rendition of “More I Cannot Wish You.” One of the songs that is seldom heard, and is my favorite, is “Marry the Man Today.” The complex melody is beautifully sung by Karen De Hart and Keite Davis.

Choreographer Tyler Risk stages great dance numbers throughout the production, and the dancers are outstanding. The choral work is also excellent. Sets by Joe Ragey and costumes by Janie Bergmann lend a wonderful cartoon feel to the musical. Jay Manley's direction is fast and furious. He even uses that little bit about when Big Jule sits down and everybody else, seesaw-style, bounces into the air.

Guys and Dolls runs through August 10 at the Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Rd (El Monte exit West, off Hwy 280), Los Altos Hills, Ca. For tickets call 650-948-4444 open daily noon – 3 pm or automated charge by phone at 650-949-7414 opens 24 hours.


Photo: David Allen


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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