Guys & Dolls
Corn Stock Theatre
July 11 - 19
By Marty Lynch
Summer is in full swing, and that can only mean theatre is thriving at Corn Stock Theatre again. Guys & Dolls opened last night in weather that was just as wonderful as the show.
We go up to the tent and we know what we will see. We all hate to say that this show is from the golden age of musicals, because it implies that musicals today are not as good. I won’t say this is my favorite musical ever, but Guys & Dolls emerged when the genre had truly hit its stride. This is a show that lots of people can love for different reasons. Some of us are hit with the nostalgia of post-war New York. A few of us remember the revivals. All of us were in or knew someone that was in an amateur production. We all know this show. Once the orchestra starts playing the overture, we are all happy to be here.
If you don’t know the show, then there’s plot to burn on this one. Basically, New York has a bunch of wise guys that want to gamble, and Nathan Detroit is the man to see. Nathan Detroit has a Doll named Adelaide that wants him to quit gambling. Sky Masterson, the gambler’s gambler, is looking for something more in his world and finds Sarah Brown, who wants him to quit sinning altogether. Throw in a police officer bent on catching them and a surly gangster from Chicago that won’t let them stop, and you have Guys & Dolls.
If it isn’t obvious by now, this show revolves around couples. Mike Reams plays Nathan Detroit and has the most interaction with multiple characters, but his moments with Adelaide are priceless. Reams has a knack for timing and sharing a stage that allows him to lead as a partner with anyone. Kim Behrens as Adelaide is a treat every time she is performing as a Cabaret star or bickering with her fiancée of 14 years. The other power couple would be Sky Masterson and Miss Sarah Brown, played by Jarod Hazzard and Tonya Davis. You may have had a chance before to see how good Mr. Hazzard is on stage, but this show is Mrs. Davis’ debut in Peoria and I recommend you enjoy how well she rebuffs her new suitor. The entire company is the true star, but if anyone has a legitimate showstopper, it would be Alex Mansoori. He leads the company in “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in one of the most spectacular Peoria debuts I have ever seen.
The ensemble breaks into couples as well. Benny and Nicely Nicely have a terrific style reminiscent of Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella. Harry the Horse and Big Julie are also quite a team as the closest thing to an antagonist this show has. The true conflict in this show is within these relationships, and the actors do a great job bringing it onto the stage.
Director Chip Joyce chose this show because “audiences love watching Guys & Dolls and actors love performing Guys & Dolls.” Joyce taps into that enthusiasm in every actor and brings out the courage to put everything onstage. That love is in the tent as the audience nods or hums to the music, wiggles during the dances, and nearly join in during “Havana.” The men and women dancing during the night are incredibly entertaining for their energy and the terrific choreography of Heather Klaus. Dance captains Jennifer Morris and Laura Mansoori lead several exciting numbers on the stage. The problem with an ensemble like this is that I can’t name everyone for what a fun job they did.
When a show is this fun to watch, it becomes easy to forget the world that has been created around them. Chip Joyce doubles as the set designer and gives us a versatile, fluid set that makes for smooth transitions for the cast. Sarah Blume’s costumes, especially during the numbers, are a treat to see. Megan Larke has been designing lovely lights for Corn Stock for a while now and doesn’t get nearly enough credit from me. Music Director Laura Weaver Hughes has brought together an orchestra that sounds wonderful together and brings the show together in a way that only live music can.
When everyone goes to a theatre as if they are visiting an old friend, the space assumes a new kind of magic. This felt like a gathering of friends more than any other show I have seen. Everyone was greeting one another, people were crossing the aisles to reconnect, and even a grumpy critic like me ran into a handful of people I know. I loved seeing people gather to share a moment, the way a theatre is meant to. I just hope every night is like this, because theatre is where people connect and create something that no one can do alone. Donne was right about no man being one, but I contend that theatre is an island.
Guys & Dolls runs every night through Saturday, July 19 at the Corn Stock Main Stage tent in upper Bradley Park beginning at 7:30 pm each night. Tickets are $18 for adults & $12 for students 18 & under and are available at the Corn Stock Theatre box office, by calling 309-676-2196 or online at www.CornStockTheatre.com
Posted July 13, 2014