By Betsy Wolfe
Consider the boat near Naperville’s River Walk sufficiently rocked.
Genius choreography and talented leading players highlight BrightSide Theatre’s final show of its sixth season, the Broadway classic, Guys & Dolls (book by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, music and lyrics by Frank Loesser). Based on two short stories, The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure, by Damon Runyon, the musical was a veritable Tony juggernaut in 1951, ultimately running 1,200 performances, spawning numerous Broadway revivals, a film adaptation and countless regional, community and school productions. Its story revolves around local crap game promoter, Nathan Detroit, betting notorious gambler, Sky Masterson, that he wouldn’t be able to take prudish missionary, Sarah Brown, to a club in Havana. A troop of gambling pals, a gaggle of giggly girls and a mission band surround a silly romantic plot. A detailed plot summary and production history may be read here.
In its current run at the 239-seat auditorium at the Meiley-Swallow Hall, a minimalist cityscape adorns the back of the thrust-style stage, and many effects in the show effectively pull from Gobo and other lighting effects. An early act one large number, “The Oldest Established” showcases a beautiful men’s chorus with entertaining choreography by Jeni Donahue. The genius of the choreography in this show is how Donahue creates entertaining visuals well executed by dancers of various ability levels, never detracting from the entertainment value of the numbers. Other notable dance numbers include “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Havana,” “The Crapshooters Dance” and “Luck Be a Lady.” All singing in this show is skilled and enjoyable, and, led by Music Director Sara Giordano, every chorus number is particularly polished and lovely, particularly the male chorus numbers.
Laura Sportiello as beautiful, mission-minded Sarah Brown holds her own onstage with handsome and talented Ryan Bennet’s gambling Romeo, Sky Masterson. Sportiello’s opera-style vocals, even with the finest voice onstage, are at times difficult to understand and don’t always blend with the Broadway-style of the rest of the cast. Live band music piped in over the sound system complements the songs and dances well with nice balance over the vocals. The music in this entire show is outstanding.
There is plenty of comedy to enjoy, thanks to the efforts of all the chorus actors and particularly Dennis Schnell as Nathan Detroit and Jillian Weingart as Miss Adelaide. Schell and Weingart’s truly appealing chemistry provide many of the most delightful scenes in both acts. Weingart’s terrific comedic timing and adorable take on Adelaide make her a talent to watch for.
Veteran BrightSside director Jeffrey Cass does a great job utilizing the thrust stage for maximum effect without issues of cast blocking audience views. That’s no small feat on this particular stage. Outside of a few of the dialogue sections late in Act One where the pacing slows a bit, the action and numbers move along steadily. The length of this show depends on cut choices, scene changes and actor pacing. Scene transitions are extremely well executed with little distraction, but the show still feels a tad too long at 2 ½ hours, plus intermission and a late start.
In all, fans of gorgeous music, classic Broadway or just a good laugh with endearing characters are in luck; BrightSide’s Guys and Dolls has all the above.
BrightSide Theatre presents “Guys and Dolls” through June 25 at the Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall at North Central College, 31 S Ellsworth St, Naperville. More information and tickets are available here.