[All photos by SPRY ART PHOTOGRAPHY. Click any photo to enlarge.]
By David Dow Bentley III “The People’s Critic”
Those familiar with the witty short stories of newspaper columnist, Damon Runyon, may also be acquainted with the types of gangsters, gamblers, hustlers and floozies that populated the 1940’s Manhattan and Brooklyn prohibition underworld of which he wrote. Those amusing stories became the inspiration for composer Frank Loesser’s delightful Broadway musical, “Guys & Dolls.” With Loesser’s charming music & lyrics, and the witty book by Jo Swerling & Abe Burrows, the 1950 show became an enduring hit that was also brought successfully to the screen with the 1955 adaptation starring Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Vivian Blaine and Jean Simmons. Now Montgomery County residents can enjoy the fun once more thanks to the cheerful Class Act production of the show currently playing at The Class Act Theater, and directed by the company’s founder and producer, Keith Brumfield.
Following the familiar tunes of the pleasant Overture, the show opens on the simple street scene set of designer, Jonathan Shelledy, which can easily rotate to a different scene when needed. A large number of nicely costumed passers-by (designer BeLynda Smith) scurry through the neighborhood. The fun begins with the merry entrance of the Save a Soul Mission band. Led by mission director, Sarah Brown (Hannah Yarbrough), and Sarah’s grandfather, Arvide (Jadin Rivas), the rag-tag group chants, “Follow the Fold,” in a seemingly desperate quest to find new Christian converts for the Mission. By contrast, the next scene moves to a perfect collection of potential sinners, as a group of gamblers gathers in the street with a quest of its own while their leader, Nathan Detroit (Brandon Brumfield), searches the town seeking a location for the upcoming big gambling night that would be safe from discovery by the always-lurking detective, Lt. Brannigan (Felipe Campos Amaya). The rowdy group breaks into delightful song to accompany this search to relocate “The Oldest Established” […Floating crap game in New York].
Nathan needs cash to rent a hall for the gambling. In hopes of winning the needed funds, he tricks high-roller, Sky Masterson (Ian Ramirez), into a wager that he could not get a date with the very prim Miss Brown.
As the slick Sky makes that attempt, Sarah at first rebuffs him during their charming duet of, “I’ll Know.” During that number it became clear that Miss Yarbrough has an extraordinarily fine voice. (That suspicion was quickly confirmed when I noted in the program that Yarbrough is a Vocal Performance Major at Sam Houston State University).
Next, we have the beaming arrival of Hot Box Nightclub star, Miss Adelaide (Sarah Ryan, looking as sunny and cheerful as her bright yellow frock and matching hat).
Wearing cute gingham farm girl dresses, Adelaide’s adorable backup dancers (choreographer, Heidi Kloes) join her in singing the delightful “A Bushel and A Peck,” number, but then things get a bit more complicated with the arrival of Adelaide’s 14-year, marriage-shy fiancée, Nathan.
(She’s been lying in letters to her distant mother about their “marriage” and their many children). Her desperation for a wedding show’s itself with Miss Ryan’s amusing and whiny-voiced performance of “Adelaide’s Lament.”
The lively title song, “Guys & Dolls,” gets a lusty performance from the gamblers in the ensemble, with plenty of high-energy dancing. And speaking of high-energy dancing, clever Sky finally wins a date with Sarah, and whisks her away to Cuba for a night on the town. Nightclub cocktails get the usually reverent Sarah very drunk, and the tropical island excitement has everyone out on the dance floor for this dazzling “Havana” number full of colorful costumes. Before the Intermission, Miss Yarbrough puts the audience in a great mood bringing her lovely voice to, “If I Were a Bell,” and then a pleasant duet with Ramirez, as Sarah and Sky deliver the charming, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”
In Act 2 the fun continues at The Hot Box Club as Adelaide and her dancers arrive onstage in elegant, electric blue evening gowns, with matching jewels and furs, to sing the hilarious, “Take Back Your Mink” reprimand, aimed at rich guys that think they can buy a woman’s affection with lavish gifts.
The real fun begins when the girls suddenly display that they are wearing split-second, fall-away costumes that instantaneously drop and leave them all standing in just their black lingerie undergarments and full-length white gloves. What a hoot!
Audiences will find many more delights in Act 2, like the touching surprise from Sarah’s grandpa as Mr. Rivas brings his beautiful voice to the tenderness of, “More I Cannot Wish You.” Another treat is the whirling and acrobatic choreography for the gamblers during the “Crapshooter’s Dance,” and “Luck Be a Lady.” But looming above all those treats, I would have to say that Jack Wheeler’s performance as Nicely-Nicely in the “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” number, brought the full cast to its blockbuster moment. Fans of the late Stubby Kaye, who originated that role both on Broadway and in the film, will not be disappointed.
GUYS & DOLLS will have final weekend performances this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, and there will be matinees both Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 pm. For tickets and information visit http://www.classactproductions.org Performances will be at the Class Act Theatre, 25275 Budde Rd. (Suite 27) The Woodlands, TX
The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com. E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com