| Apr 21, 2005


Feature article,April 21, 2005

Feature article April 21, 2005

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Guys and Dolls at North Frontenac Little Theatre

reviewed by Jeff Green

North Frontenac Little Theatre faced a familiar problem in trying to adapt Guys and Dolls for a modern audience.

The play was written well over 50 years ago, and as the title suggests, much of the action revolves around the way men see women and the way women see men. Many of the jokes in the play are based on attitudes towards gender that were not even current back then, and seem particularly backwards with the passage of time.

Still, in the age of Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, men and women are still laughing at each other, and it is this kind of light-hearted attitude that was taken by the Little Theatre in Guys and Dolls.

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In this production the actors were so comfortable on stage that they had no trouble in delivering the script for a contemporary audience. The delivery was everything. Guys and Dolls is sort of a Jane Austen New York City gangster tale, featuring two romances. In one, Adelaide (Deborah Spaar) and Nathan Detroit (Brian Robertson), have been engaged for 14 years, and the question is will Nathan finally come through for Adelaide. In the other romance, the unlikely pairing of high roller Sky Masterson (Alan MacDonald) and Holy Roller Sarah (Kristen Windenmaier), is a romance that is launched by a wager.

Each of these actors did a wonderful job singing, in particular when performing duets.

Kristen Windenmaier, as Sarah, the most serious character in the play, used various techniques to peg herself as an outsider trying to reform a group of people who had no interest in being reformed. She stood straight while everyone else slouched, and she was the only major character not to put on a New York accent. Still, she was able to give her character wit, and allowed Sarah to soften under the influence of Sky Masterson.

Alan MacDonald brought a swagger to Sky Masterson, a gambler who saw no reason to change his ways, until he began wooing Sarah on a $1,000 wager, and then fell for her. While it is not particularly credible that a character like Sky Masterson would go from hardened gambler to fumbling lover, MacDonald handled this by making the character as surprised as anyone else that this had happened to him, to great comic effect.

Deborah Spaar gave the character of Adelaide just the right combination of ditziness and street smarts to make the character thoroughly enjoyable to watch. Adelaide has several comic songs, and Deborah Spaar, a first-time actor who inhabits the stage like she has been there all her life, nailed them all.

Brian Robertson as Nathan Detroit, a schemer whose schemes never quite work, brought a kind of manic desperation to the role. As he kept sinking deeper and deeper into his own lies, Robertson revealed that desperation despite his wisecracks and bravado. When he finally is cornered by Adelaide, in one of the best songs of the play, he sings Sue me, sue me, put a knife right through me, and here finally we find an honest Nathan Detroit confronting himself. Robertson managed to play his character for laughs throughout the play and still make that line seem genuine.

If Nathan Detroit is a victim of his own scheming, he did have two flunkies to victimise: Nicely Nicely, played by Paddy O'Conner and Benny Southwest, played by Craig Godfrey. The two actors, who played off each other all evening, were always popping in and out of the play, providing a running commentary of the action. They did a lot of acting with their bodies and faces, and their songs were extremely funny. Ill get to costumes a bit later, but the black glasses on Benny Southwest were an inspired bit of mischief.

The supporting performers were all distinctive as well. Tom Christenson as Big Jule was suitably menacing. Michael Cota had at least three roles, the MC at the Hot Box Caf a Cuban dancer, and a hapless husband who fumbled his way across the stage with too many packages while his wife, Margaret Sullivan, walked along imperiously. Peter Platenius, as Joey Biltmore and Liver Lips Louie, Mark Duarte as Harry the Horse, and Kevin Melcher as a waiter, a dancer and as Angie the Ox, snarled and jeered their way through the play. They managed to stay one step ahead of John Stephen as Lt. Brannigan, and eventually all fell under the influence of the seemingly hapless missionaries, led by Sarah Brown, and her aunt, Arvide Arbuckle, played with wit by Sandy Robertson.

There were at least a dozen more mission workers, Hot Box cafdancers, Havana dancers, and street people, that brought colour, voice and humour to their roles, making this a well performed play from beginning to end.

Putting together a production with 17 scenes, about a dozen songs, over 20 actors/dancers/singers, and making it all work was no small feat, and much credit for the plays success goes to Producer and Artistic Director John Pariselli and Musical Director Kelli Caravan. Caravan also conducted a seven-piece band during the performance, and Tanyelle VanderSchoors choreography also added considerably to the piece.

The two-level, stylised pink/purple New York buildings were the centrepiece of Joanne Picketts effective set. The towers were echoed by some of the red accessories of the characters, such as Adelaides purse and the dancers boas and hats. In the program, costumer Susan Stopford wrote that she dreams of vats of black dye, and it was all to good effect. The black costumes worked well with the set, allowing the expressive faces to stand out and deliver the humour of the play visually as well as through dialogue.

At 2 hours, Guys and Dolls was a long production. The only quibble I had with it was that I found the first act was about 5 or 10 minutes too long, and I could sense that the audiences attention wavered a bit just before the intermission.

Fortunately the second half of the play was compelling and led to a standing ovation at the end, the four leads receiving a well deserved thunder of applause when they took their bows.

The North Frontenac Little Theatres fall production this year will be A Christmas Carol, and auditions will be held in June. Check these pages for details.

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