by Sarah Jarmon
Cedar Rapids - I had a rough week, so when Friday night came around, I was exhausted. I was cranky, worn out, and just a little bit bitter about life in general. But I had a commitment to review Theatre Cedar Rapids' production of Guys and Dolls, and I keep my commitments. I have never been more glad that this is the case.
I was a little concerned going in that due to my terrible mood I might be too hard on the show. I might find myself less forgiving or overly critical. The fact of the matter was however, they gave me very little to criticize.
From the moment the overture began and the lights dimmed on that brilliant red curtain, my troubles seemed to melt away. The curtain rose on a tableau of vibrantly colored characters on a darkly attractive set. The music, reminiscent of classic Broadway, had me tapping my toes and fighting the urge to dance in my seat.
Fugue for Tinhorns, the first song, sung by Nicely Nicely (Zach Parker), Benny (Stephen Brandt), and Rusty (Jeff Parry) opened the action of the play with punctuated choreography and a delightful harmony. The audience, as one, lit up for what was undoubtedly going to be a show that knocked our socks off. And we were not disappointed.
Now I am not, in general, a musical kind of girl. I have, on occasion, earned myself the title of theatre snob. Usually, I feel that straight plays offer better acting and more interesting staging than musicals do. TCR's Guys and Dolls either proved the exception to that belief, or broke it entirely.
Mary Rinderspacher was absolutely delightful as Miss Sarah Brown. Her sweetly pious nature and indomitable spirit made me root for her from the moment I first saw her standing on her soap box. Her physicality, from the purposeful way she moved across the stage to the indignant slap she gave Sky after he kissed her, was childlike and adorable enough to make you feel protective of her, but never came across as weak. And during I'll Know, when we were first graced with the full beauty of her breathtaking soprano, everyone in the theater fell in love with her. During Marry the Man Today, her duet with Heather Akers, her airy tones blended with Heather's more tinny sound in a uniquely wonderful way. She took the stage and shared the stage in equal measures and was an absolute joy to watch.
Sky Masterson, played by seasoned performer Trevor Debth, masterfully grew from a smarmy scoundrel to a love-struck gentlemen without ever seeming disingenuous or forced. Though he was manipulative, you couldn't help but like him, maybe because he never claimed to be a good guy. His relationship with Sarah, and his strange friendship with the charmingly corrupt Nathan Detroit, played by Jonathan Swenson, made you believe that people can change, but you can bet that they're doin' it for some doll.
Nathan Detroit's doll, Miss Adelaid, was played by the singular Heather Akers, whose enchantingly batty portrayal put me to mind of a blond Betty Boop. Sexy, dippy, and darling, you understand why Nathan's in love with the dame. And when she gets together with her Hot Box Girls the stunning dance routines and slightly off color jokes that resulted were pure entertainment. From these energetic numbers to the slower, Adelaide's Lament, I could not keep my eyes off her.
This is definitely an ensemble show, and everyone in it shines. Guys and dolls alike hit every note and step of the familiar songs and dazzling choreography with pizzazz. The guys, offering cartoonish villains like John Ryal as the endearingly ominous Big Jule, are hilarious. The dolls drip with glamour and talent. Even the Mission Band is spot on, most notably Gene Whiteman, who received possibly the longest and loudest applause of the evening at the end of his undeniably touching rendition of More I Cannot Wish You. When the last beautiful note of his song left the air, there were quite a few people discreetly wiping their eyes.
But the actors were not the only stars in this play. The set was gorgeous. Upon first glance it seemed clean and simple, but scene after scene it afforded the actors with several different locations to play in. It opened and moved and changed completely with the slightest adjustment. Only one scene change was off, when a rotating booth on the upper level had a locking mechanism that seemed to stick. It was fixed almost immediately however and didn't really take away from the show. The walls were dressed with the classic Coca-Cola sign, and other lighted advertisements that gave the whole thing that big city feel without overwhelming the characters. Nooks and crannies came into view only when an actor unexpectedly emerged from it. Which happened quite often. The actors found every level available and used the set magnificently.
There was possibly one missed opportunity. During the second night of the floating crap game, when the guys have relocated to an underground venue, Sky goes down through the trapdoor to find them. As he descends the set is transformed by pipes and a ladder lowering onto the stage to take us into the sewers with him. A fantastic dance takes place during The Crapshooter's Ballet where all kinds of technically amazing steps portray the wonder of gambling and winning. I waited with baited breath for Sky to come down the ladder that had descended. Sadly I was disappointed. He entered from a side door on the highest platform on the set, but as that ladder had come down I really, really wanted him to use it. Of course I forgot this minor disappointment the moment he launched into Luck Be A Lady. The staging of this crowd favorite lent us a a sense of tension that built to a crescendo throughout the song, even for those of us who knew how the dice came out.
The lighting was elegant and attractive, casting bright highlights and interesting shadows that emphasized the lush, evocative costumes from Joni Sackett's designs. Purples, reds, oranges, and other vivid colors splashed all over without ever being garish or overwhelming. And the direction ensured that this show, which I am told is quite long, flew by. The timing was perfect. When it ended, to a standing ovation, I am sure I wasn't the only one who wished there was more to see.
Thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end, this is not a show to miss. TCR's Guys and Dolls reminds me why we go to the theatre. We go to forget our own lives, to laugh, to cry, to see a story that unfolds and makes us believe again that everything can turn out right. I could really go on and on about this performance, but I always hate it when someone gives away the best parts of a show, so suffice it to say, buy yourself a ticket for next weekend today and thank me later.