As soon as the scrim rises on the “Runyonland” overture dance, the key to the success of Pepperdine’s production of “Guys and Dolls” quickly becomes apparent. The university’s theater department has men who can dance.
Add to that the voices, the delivery, the choreography and the remarkable performance energy of the troupe, all under the direction of Jon Engstrom, and, well, more I cannot wish you.
Out to a quick start are Christopher Rowe DeJoseph (as Nicely- Nicely Johnson), Matt Logan (Benny Southstreet) and Robert Vance (Rusty Charlie), singing “Fugue for Tinhorns” (“I got the horse right here . . . “) with delightful voices and the big bravado of the gambling set. If sequels had been de rigueur in the 1950s, Nicely-Nicely would have had his own show, and DeJoseph would be a sure bet in any current professional production.
As Sky, Matthew Patrick Quinn spends less time trying to look like a leading man and more time creating a dark, multifaceted man truly seeking a better life with a woman he seems to care about; he is towering and intense in “My Time of Day” and “Luck Be a Lady.”
As Nathan, Kevin Lee Fulker makes comedy look effortless, improvised and loaded with details, from Nathan’s botched business dealings to his intense pain under Adelaide’s spike heel.
As Adelaide, Anna Victoria Larson squeaks and belts some of the best lyrics in musical theater — and was unfortunately forced to rush some of their delivery.
Playing Sarah, Lisa Marie Dunn has a clear, innocent voice until Sky introduces her to a new “milkshake,” when she swings.
Guesting with the production as Arvide Abernathy, John Raitt makes wonderful use of his full voice; his “More I Cannot Wish You” gave warm, strong words of support to every daughter in the audience.
The talented supporting cast includes: Nathan Johnson as Harry the Horse, Evelyn V. Trester as General Cartwright, Bryan Powell as Big Jule, Benjamin Murrie as Lt. Brannigan, Angela Rasmussen as Agatha, Daniel Peretto as Calvin, Don Kidd as Angie, Bryan Powell as Joey Biltmore, Matt Ebeling as the Hot Box emcee, Monica M. Bromberg as Mimi, Joe Ashby as the maitre d’, Corey Greenan as a cafe waiter, Jeremy Lostetter as the drunk, and Chris Collins and Ben Porter as waiters.
The dancing gamblers, showgirls, mission workers and Cubans are: Megan Christman, David Coburn, Cari Costner, Brianna Fedele, Sara C. Foley, John Hill, Alfredo Jaro, Amita Joshi, April Madigan, David May, Chad Paige, Valerie Roche, Hilary Rushford and Tse Tse Young.
Engstrom’s choreography suits his dancers, particularly in the Havana scene and in the crap-game dance in which the men are strong, purposeful and inspired.
Costume designer Carol Ann Hack must have had fun designing suits for the “Guys,” using brightly colored stripes, plaids and combinations thereof. Adelaide, too, is saucily clad, and the magenta minks of the Hot Box girls are eye-openers.
Scenery Coordinator Kermit Heckert pulled out a charming Hot Box room and startling sewer scene. Lighting Designer David Barber kept every face lit under differing moods.
Under music director Thomas Osborn, the orchestra has a huge sound, sometimes overwhelming solo voices but moving neatly from tenderness to tumult.
A word of warning to the overly analytical theatergoer: Let go of the ’90s mind set and wish the ’50s couples a happy marriage.
“Guys and Dolls” continues Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m. at Smothers Theatre, Pepperdine University. Tickets are $15. Tel. 456-4522 or Ticketmaster.
Owed to Joy
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra played a concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall consisting of Beethoven’s last two symphonies. Under conductor Edo de Waart, the evening was huge, solid, disciplined and inspiring — in other words, Australian for Beethoven.
The orchestra’s sound is polished, clear and warm. De Waart reconfigured the seating, placing the cellos center stage, violins left and right. Whether the musical choice or the musicianship, the musicians were visibly impassioned, breathing and swaying as they played.
In the Symphony No. 8, Beethoven’s near-spoof of classical music, de Waart began briskly, leading to a loving second movement. The minuet was full, with appealing dynamics. The fourth movement managed to produce wonderful separation among the instruments while maintaining seamless ensemble work.
For the Symphony No. 9, Beethoven’s wish for the joys of a united humankind, de Waart included two merged choruses, the UCLA and Angeles chorales. De Waart kept the first movement forte without turning it into an assault, while using delicate articulation in the second movement. After a lingering adagio/andante, the musicians and the audience dove into the choral finale on Schiller’s “Ode to Joy.” There, de Waart brought out impassioned strings, triumphant winds and percussion playing more for accent than attention.
As featured vocal soloists, Christine Goerke offered a rich soprano voice and Stephen Powell an appealing bass-baritone, along with mezzo-soprano Mary Ann McCormack and tenor Thomas Studebaker.
As the concert was ending, a man tapped me on the shoulder. “Why don’t any of you ever mention the guy who wrote the music?” he asked. “Everyone is cheering for the conductor, for the orchestra. Nobody remembers Beethoven. Why don’t they hold up a picture of Beethoven. Look at them up there, bowing.”
So, Herr Beethoven, you apocryphally old grump, thank you for the glorious tributes to music, to humanity, to joy.