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More ISO 'Guys and Dolls' thoughts

October 14, 2008
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At some point, I will write about something besides the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's presentation of "Guys and Dolls in Concert" last weekend.

But that point isn't here yet.

I blogged on one aspect of the show on Saturday. (Find it here, along with comments from some readers who were there--and one who was in the show).

But there's more to say. Some additional thoughts:

--While the out-of-town talent was outstanding, credit needs to go to ISO Principal Pops Conductor Jack Everly and the ISO for elevated this show from being merely an outstanding concert to an event. The horn section, particuarly, seemed to relish the opportunity to swing with Frank Loesser's peerless score. There is little chance of anyone anywhere ever hearing this complete of a version of "Guys and Dolls" (most recordings skip the reprises, the scene-change music, etc.) played by this large and this talented of a group of musicians. The Encores in-concert productions I've seen at City Center in New York didn't sound nearly as good.

--Ashley Brown, as Sarah, gave a performance that, in lesser company, would have owned the first act. Coming very soon after leaving her title role in "Mary Poppins" on Broadway, she stunned the audience in the reprise of "I'll Know" not just because of her outstanding vocals, but because she anchored the character in real, human emotions. Her Sarah was ready to fall in love, had created an image of her ideal guy, but knew that one wasn't out there who fit her definition. She was, in short, ready for Sky Masterson. And when she let loose in "If I Were a Bell," it was more than a comic drunk number. It was a captivating portrayal of a woman stepping outside of her comfort zone and loving it. And it was still very funny.

--Hugh Panaro's Sky Masterson was more than her equal, with a poignant but not obvious loneliness coming through. He clearly surprises himself by sharing his "time of day" with Sarah and that goes a long way toward his transformation in the end making perfect sense.

--Gary Beach at first seemed to be tearing pages from the Nathan Lane playbook. It's, admittendly, a tough shadow to come out from. But he came into his own in the second act's "Sue Me," in which it was clear than Nathan truly loved his Adelaide. And his joy in the supporting chorus of "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat" made a wonderful number that much better.

--An ideal Adelaide makes you laugh between the jokes. And makes you understand both her attraction to Nathan and why he's attracted to her. Megan Lawrence delivered across the board, never straying too far into cartoon.

--One of the familiar faces to ISO frequenters was that of Joe Cassidy as Nicely Nicely. His line entering the sewer was one of the night's biggest laughs for me. But he also joyfully sailed through the show's title song and got "Sit Down" off to a rollicking start.

--If there was one weak link in the cast it was Vincent Pastore. Fine once he settled into the monosylabic part of gambler Big Julie, he unfortunately also was tasked with reading narration for the show, consistantly rendering the text unintelligable. The Runyon-esque syntax requires precision, not sloppiness. And mispronouncing Adelaide is just inexcusable.

--There were so many ways that the ISO could have cut corners on this production. The costumes didn't have to be this ideal. There didn't have to be as many Hot Box Girls. One Broadway star would probably have sufficed. And excellent supporting players, including the Tony-Award-worthy Hal Linden, could have been turned over to those less experienced. But the magic of the evening was that there was no sign of compromise anywhere. The ISO delivered a world-class evening that musical theater fans will be talking about for many, many years.

--Clearly this is something that should happen at least once each ISO season. The question: What show to do next? Stick with both comedy and Loesser and take a shot at "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying"? Go for another very familiar classic and try "The Music Man" (at least the company will be well on its way to the 76 trombones)? Take a more "serious" approach and concertize "Les Miserables"? Go the route of New York's Encores series and try something less familiar, such as Jule Stein's "Do Re Mi" (a brash show with a "Guys and Dolls" feel that includes the song "Make Someone Happy"). Or risk rustling a few stripper feathers and tackle one of the few scores on par with that of "Guys and Dolls" -- "Gypsy"?

--Ding dong ding dong ding.

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