Recommended *** “Classic Musical Comedy”! Over the years, we have learned to expect the oldies but goodies to be our “holiday fare” at Light Opera Works. Yes, while other theater companies bring out the Christmas stories, musical and non-musical, variety and spoof, Light Opera Works, known as Illinois Music Theater, brings us the classics of days gone by! The musicals that those of us over 50 truly recall the memories of and the excitement of watching these masterpieces in our youths. The 2015 Winter/Holiday selection for this company is “Guys and Dolls” also called the musical fable of Broadway (based on the greatest characters ever to be in a musical comedy, the characters of writer Damon Runyon. While we know that “Fiddler on the Roof”, based on short stories and characters in Shalom Aleichem’s tales of Tevye continues to thrill audiences, the Runyon characters have the same power today, some 65 years ago. As an actor, in my many years of performing was luck to have played Nathan Detroit several times. A role that I loved almost as much as playing Tevye.
Under the smooth direction of Artistic Director, Rudy Hogenmiller, this classical musical with songs that many know, such as “I’ll Know”,”Bushel and a Peck” ,”If I were a Bell”, “Luck Be A Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser), many fond memories come back to us. Younger people might find some of the characters strange, but Hogenmiller makes them seem real and true. The casting came close to ideal with voices that make the music truly special. The story is about the gamblers of New York and the Mission that opens in Times Square to bring resolution to the crime and gamblers. Our main gambler is one Nathan Detroit (well handled by Steve Silver) who runs the oldest established floating crap game in New York. This means the game is never in the same spot. He has been engaged to Miss Adelaide ( the adorable Sarah Larson) the local singer at The Hot Box nightclub for 14 years. She is ready to wed, but he is not. The game is of the greatest importance for him.
The other big gambler, Sky Masterson (that is how high he bets) is played by Justin Adair, who at times I felt did not truly understand the concept of the character and his ultimate smoothness. His “girl” and as it turns out conquest is miss Sarah Brown ( a standout performance by Elizabeth Telford, who has a marvelous voice to match her charming characterization of this prim and proper “soldier”) I found her enchanting, in particular their trip to Havana. Wow! If she were a bell, any guy would want to swing with her! The whole story revolves around a bet between Nathan and Sky for one thousand bucks and ends up getting all the gamblers of Broadway to a midnight Mission Meeting to save Sarah her job and the mission itself. A wonderful story written by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows ( who as it turns out may not have truly written the exact words you hear, but that is another story) with characters that are funny and relatable. Of course, there is a happy ending for all of the main characters.
Speaking of characters, let me take a minute to express the gratitude on my part of Hogenmiller finding a solid performer to bring Nicely-Nicely to the stage. Cary Lovett truly brings his own interpretation to the character (not trying to imitate the original Stubby Kaye) and making “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” the showstopper number it is. Bravo! Jim Heatherly is dynamite as Benny Southstreet who along with Nicely brings the title song “Guys and Dolls” to life. Rick Rapp’s Lt. Brannigan is solid as is the performance of regular Kirk Swenk as Arvide Abernathy (Sarah’s grandfather). Russel Hoke as Big Julie from East Cicero Illinois is very cute and Richard Salon as his tour guide, Harry the Horse is well handled.The orchestra (one of the trademarks of this company is a FULL orchestra) conducted by Shawn Stengel and the choreography (Clayton Cross does a special job with the “sewer scene” opening dance) along with glorious costumes (Brenda Winstead) and brilliant set (Adam Veness) and lighting (Andrew H. Meyers) makes this almost three hour show complete. Yes, in the old days, before people were on such crazy schedules returning text messages and phone calls as well as answering e-mails, shows were longer. Act One always had more scenes than Act Two and as always, the first act was about 1 1/2 hours and the second act, just short of an hour, with a 15 minute intermission. Truth is- the show never feels long! The story moves quickly and the action never stalls.
While this is not as strong a production as we are used to from this wonderful theater company, they still manage to find new young talent to make the musicals of the past remain alive in our hearts and souls. Light Opera Works does each production on a limited performance schedule. Partly because of the full orchestra (Union) and time commitment from the actors. This production which takes place at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston (600 Emerson, at Sheridan Road) with performances as follows:
Sundays 12/27 2 p.m.
Wednesday 12/30 2 p.m.
Thursday 12/31 8 p.m. (Happy New Year)
Friday 1/1 8 p.m.
Saturday 1/2 8 p.m.
Sundays 1/3 2 p.m.
Tickets range from $49- $96 (age 21 and younger half price) and can be reserved by calling 847-920-5360 or visiting www.LightOperaWorks.com
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Guys and Dolls”