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It doesn’t get much better than this for residents of the once Sandy-ravaged Rockaway Beach. The pleasantly warm summer weather and low humidity have the beach crowds flocking to newly restored areas of the previously destroyed beach and boardwalk; but better still, summer theatre treats await the area at the evermore popular Rockaway Theatre Company now performing Frank Loesser’s musical classic, GUYS & DOLLS, at the Post Theatre here in New York City’s Gateway National Recreation Area of the National Parks Service. With its book by Jo Swerling & Abe Burrows, this delightful production is skillfully directed by John Gilleece, and features melodic musical direction from Heather Arzberger & Richard Louis-Pierre. The bright energy of their terrific 10-piece orchestra keeps things beautifully rolling along right from the lovely Overture. After my attendance at last Friday night’s performance, I score this show as Highly Recommended.
I like to think I have a personal connection to Guys & Dolls because at the time composer, Frank Loesser, debuted the show on Broadway in 1950, his sister lived across the street from my boyhood home in the little Hudson Valley town of Peekskill, New York. Needless to say I never got any Broadway credit for that. But enough about me. This show is so much fun that through the years it has already had 5 Broadway revivals and a Carnegie Hall presentation in 2014. Let me assure you the fun continues in this RTC edition. As delightful as it is, it has one major drawback from a critic’s point of view: The cast is so enormous there is no practical way to acknowledge the countless talents on display without offending those I might miss. To compound that, the company has so many skilled performers, it was determined that many of the lead roles would have duplicate casting, thus providing a secondary cast for alternate evenings. After several successful weeks already, the word is out that both casts are splendid, so with apologies to the alternate performers I have not seen, let me give some broad outlines of the fun that awaits future audiences.
The familiar plot centers on an amusing cast of gangsters, Bible-thumpers, gamblers and showgirls living on the fringes of the 1950’s Broadway scene. Veteran gambler, Nathan Detroit (Matthew Smilardi – alt: John Panepinto) is ignoring the wishes of his longtime fiancée, cute showgirl, Miss Adelaide (Caitlin Byrne – alt: Nicole Mangano). Nathan is angling to arrange a bigtime crap game in spite of Adelaide’s insistence that he quit gambling.
Miss Byrne is sensational as this adorable nightclub singer who is losing patience at being “engaged for fourteen years,” and having to make up stories in order for her mother to believe that she and Nathan are already married with children. Byrne’s terrific voice and flair for comedy would have carried this role on any stage, anywhere, and Broadway audiences wouldn’t have hesitated to declare her a star. Whether leading the talented Hot Box Girls in both “Bushel & a Peck,” and the uproarious, “Take Back Your Mink,” or joining in brilliant duet with smooth-voiced Smilardi for the savage, “Sue Me,” or better still, knocking the ball out of the park with the hilarious, “Adelaide’s Lament,” this gal has it all. Wow!
Paralleling the pairing of Nathan and Adelaide, we have romantic sparks flying between bigtime gambler, Sky Masterson (Daniel Velez – Alt. Michael Whalen), and the initially prim and sanctimonious leader of the Save-a-Soul Mission, Sr. Sarah Brown (Renee Steadman – Alt. Maria Edwards). Steadman has a glorious voice that shines in numbers like, “If I Were a Bell,” and in pleasing duets with vocally talented Mr. Velez for, “I’ll Know,” and the charming “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.” Don’t miss the pair’s whirlwind trip to Cuba where Bacardi rum and lively Latin dancing flow freely. And speaking of dancing, those showgirls in the Hot Box Nightclub scenes are sensational. I only wish I had some sharp color publicity photos to give justice to the beautiful costumes on the beautiful and talented women in this cast. (Costume designer, Kerry O’Connor with Susan Corning).
And if you think gangsters can’t dance, think again before you see the talented guys in this cast do their stuff while gambling their way through numbers like, “Oldest Established,” and “Luck be a Lady.” (Choreographer, Nicola DePierro-Nellen).
The rowdy esprit de corps that permeates the wonderful ensemble efforts of this cast is highly visible in the interactions of these lovable gangsters. A standout in that regard is the
brilliant performance of Chazmond Peacock in the role of Nicely-Nicely. His joyous delivery of the show’s Act Two blockbuster, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” was a Broadway-caliber performance. Yet another Act Two treat came from Cliff Hesse in the role of Sarah’s kindly grandfather, Arvide. His tender and sweetly sentimental delivery of the song, “More I Cannot Give You,” brought warm applause from the audience. Of course there are plenty of plot twists and turns as Sky attempts to gather a dozen sinners in an effort to help Sr. Sarah save the struggling mission. The action all plays out in beautifully staged Broadway scenes full of oddball characters drifting through Time Square. (Scenic Designers, Frank Caiati, Danielle Rose Fisher, and Mr. Hesse). The crisp sound designs of Mr. Louis-Pierre and eye-catching lighting designs of Andrew Woodbridge added to the luster of a polished performance that surely owes much of its success to the efforts of some seventy contributing individuals found in the printed program’s production credit listings. Therein lies a clue to why such a rich spirit of community pervades the atmosphere in this cozy local theater. Friends, family, and visitors blend into an audience that bubbles with enthusiasm not only during the show, but also during an intermission that allows a 50/50 Club chance to win big bucks, along with available refreshments, and even hot dogs sold on stage from the Broadway vendor featured in the show.
Complaints? Not really, but I will make a prediction. I bet before long a company with this depth of talent will soon have its own resident photographer to skillfully record the visual history of the great work they are doing on the stage. Try to capture one of the few remaining tickets. You won’t be sorry.
GUYS & DOLLS continues this week with performances on July 16, 17 & 18 at 8pm, and closes on Sunday July 19th with a 2pm matinee. Visit the website at www.rockawaytheatrecompany.org. For information or reservations call 718-374-6400 or email: email@example.com