Jewel Theatre Company’s spirited ‘Guys and Dolls’ is a crowd-pleasing sure-pick to inaugurate new Tannery space
The second production in Jewel Theatre Company’s 11th season is more than just an evening of theatre. It’s an invitation to come check out the company’s spanking new performance space, the Colligan Theater, at the Tannery Arts Center, next to Radius Art Gallery. With raked seating for 182 patrons above the stage (the incline is gradual, not nosebleed-steep), there are no bad sightlines. And while the space seems enormous compared to JTC’s previous venue, the microscopic Center Stage, it still feels intimate in terms of the viewer’s relationship to the performers.
To inaugurate this new space, JTC has mounted a production of the crowd-pleasing vintage musical Guys and Dolls. Originally produced in 1950, but set in the ’30s, the show is based on the short stories of Damon Runyon, and populated by his usual cast of lovable Broadway denizens on the outskirts of respectability—gamblers, bookies, and chorus girls. The JTC production is a bit slow out of the starting gate, but picks up steam in the second lap and gallops to a strong exuberant finish.
The show was influential in its day for its faithful recreation of Runyon’s characters (with book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows), its impressionistic storytelling, and its terrific literate songs by Frank Loesser. This production does it justice, with strong singers in the leads, and excellent, plot-moving dance numbers choreographed by Lee Ann Payne. Music is provided by a seven-person combo on a platform upstage, and director Linda Piccone keeps things moving around and through Kate Edmunds’ smart, mobile set.
The story revolves around Nathan Detroit (the ever-likable Christopher Reber, beloved in Gunmetal Blues a few seasons back), who makes his precarious living setting up illegal crap games for neighborhood gamblers, and taking a cut. But somehow he never quite has enough cabbage to marry the girlfriend he’s been engaged to for 14 years, Miss Adelaide, star attraction at the Hot Box nightclub. Julie James has a high old time in the role, with her Bronx accent and racy stage numbers like “Take Back Your Mink.”
Needing cash to set up his next game, Nathan bets gambler Sky Masterson (the reliable David Ledingham, who has a great singing voice) that he can’t persuade straight-laced Salvation Army missionary Sarah Brown (Cornelia Burdick Thompson), to go to Havana with him for the day. (Thompson has a lovely singing voice, but her high notes are so pure, she may not need to be miked.) As their improbable romance plays out, the mission is threatened with closure unless Sky can deliver twelve “sinners” to a midnight revival meeting.
The show’s best coup is casting JTC veteran Diana Torres Koss in the male sidekick role of Nicely Nicely. Her Runyon-esque patter, dialect, and attitude are perfect, and she delivers some of the best songs, including the title tune (sung with the engaging Lucas Brandt as crapshooter Benny Southstreet). The singing-dancing ensemble shines in B. Modern’s lush costumes, with Jordan Sidfield’s very funny Harry the Horse another standout.
The simmering “Havana” number, with its gorgeous dancing and pantomime vignettes (in a movie, we’d call it a montage) is the point in this production where everything starts to jell. The second act is a race to the finish line, with a dynamic “Luck Be A Lady,” the wry Adelaide-Nathan duet “Sue Me,” and Torres Koss leading a rollicking “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” at the revival meeting.
The material may feel a bit dated now and then, but this spirited production successfully launches JTC’s new home.
The Jewel Theatre Company production of ‘Guys and Dolls’ plays through Dec. 6 at the Colligan Theater at the Tannery Arts Center. For tickets and information, call 425-7506, or visit jeweltheare.net.
PUTTING ON THE SQUEEZE: Left to right: Jordan Sidfield, Lucas Brandt and Diana Torres Koss in ‘Guys and Dolls.’ PHOTO: STEVE DIBARTOLOMEO