Thursday, June 19, 2008

Opening the spigot

The reportage and musings of expatriate friend Mr. St. Peter about the goings-on at the TCG conference in Denver, particularly his thoughts on Mike Daisey’s “How Theater Failed America,” have been rattling around my brain for a week now. I’m almost afraid to start writing in response because I could see myself getting into subjects that I could ramble on about for pages and pages. Once I open that spigot, I’m not sure how I would plug it back up again.

So I thought I would start with “Guys and Dolls,” knowing that talking about this particular production will eventually lead me into the territory I’m afraid of but maybe, with a little more of a focus, I won’t become reckless or just plain boring.

Among the things that have to be said about G&D is how great the choreography is. When I used the term “Broadway-caliber” in my review, one of the principal things I was thinking of was the ensemble dancing. Not infrequently, even in a really awesome local show, there are ensemble players that are pretty obviously not as skilled as the rest of the crew. It’s a reminder of the challenge local producers and directors have in finding uniformly excellent talent for a show. (I should also mention that there have certainly been shows I’ve been to on Broadway where a chorus member seemed out of their league. It’s just less common in my experience.) But the G&D ensemble does not, as far as I could tell, have a minor leaguer mixed in with the pros. And some of the featured dancers, particularly Mary Page Nance who makes such a splash in the “Havana” number, were true knock-outs.

The male voices were also exceptionally strong. The trio of Jason Marks, Landon Nagel and David Malachai Becker that Susan highlighted in her review for their performance of “Fugue for Tinhorns” provide a great introduction to how great the guys sound throughout the show. Jason may get more of the attention for his Nicely-Nicely -- and its certainly deserved -- but Mr. Nagel (as Benny Southstreet) deserves a shout-out as well. He does great work in fleshing out the vibrant background of this production. As I noted in my review of the Swift Creek Mill production six years ago, if the talent stops with the lead players in G&D, the show just doesn’t have the same zing.

On those lead players: it was great to see Scottie reprise Nathan Detroit. The boy owns the character. And I loved the chemistry between him and Rachel Abrams (not Adams!) as Adelaide. Ms. Abrams does a great job infusing her character with a genuine humanity, making her love for Nathan unmistakable and her weariness at her extended engagement palpable. As far as Ms. Markova is concerned, well, I can’t do much more than sigh at her exquisite beauty and admire the iridescence of her lovely voice. But more on that in a minute.

I’m sorry to say that I was not particularly impressed with Mr. Ashworth as Sky, but my reaction made me realize that in many ways his role is the hardest of the four leads. Sky has to have enough of that elusive magnetism to make goody-goody Sarah fall for him, while maintaining the toughness of a career gambler. As someone said to me on opening night (it might have been my wife), he has to be dreamy (some previous Skys to ruminate on: Marlon Brando, Peter Gallagher, Ewan McGregor, Larry Cook). In contrast I found Ashworth’s performance, well, a bit boring. He does a good job of projecting some vulnerability as his character starts to fall in love with Sarah but, by the “Luck be a Lady Tonight” number, I think that vulnerability has to galvanize into resolve and passion. I didn’t get any of that in the performance I saw.

An aspect of the show that kind of begs to be pointed out is the nearly inexplicable transition from “Marry the Man Today” to the finale. After everything that comes before it, it seems rushed and doesn’t really make sense. It’s a lame-ish ending tacked on to a pretty awesome show, IMHO.

Three of the leading actors in the Barksdale production are from out of town and I’d like to use that fact to transition into a discussion of “How Theater Failed America.” However, I see I’ve already rambled on pretty considerably so that will have to wait for another day. Stay tuned!

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