Casting magic for "Guys and Dolls"

October 10, 2008
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An open letter to Des McAnuff, director of the upcoming Broadway revival of "Guys and Dolls."

Mr McAnuff,

You don't know me, but having seen your productions of "The Who's Tommy," "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," and "Jersey Boys," I have high hopes for your upcoming "Guys and Dolls" revival. I understand that you've already cast Oliver Platt as Nathan Detroit (nice) and that other parts have yet to be announced.

Well, how about waiting a little longer?

At least wait until you come to Indy this weekend to see the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra's concert production of "Guys and Dolls." I checked for you: Orbitz will get you here from Ontario for less than $300.

Yes, I'm sure this concert production is already on your radar. Given the Broadway creds of most of the cast, you probably have someone here already checking it out. Still, I'm hoping you can see it for yourself.

Why? Well, I could go on about Ashley Brown, who you no doubt know from "Mary Poppins." And Hugh Panaro, from the ill-fated "Lestat" vampire musical (not to be confused with your own ill-fated "Dracula" musical). They make a wonderful Sarah/Sky pair. I'll be writing about them and other aspects of the production in my print column next week.

But the real reason to come here--and the reason I'm compelled to write this less than an hour after the show ended--is because of Hal Linden, who is playing Arvide Abernathy.

Yes, I know, Linden hasn't helped launch a Broadway production since the 1973 revival of "The Pajama Game." But at 77, the guy's not only still got name recognition, committment (he was the only core cast member not carrying a script) and stage presence, he's also got vocal chops. His tender, firm, marvelous "More I Cannot Wish You" brought deserved tears and helped define the show's heart.

Plus--and here's the big value added--Linden plays a mean clarinet--which was creatively worked into "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat" and rocked the house. For a few minutes, the audience was convinced that it was one of the ISO's expert players but, no, Linden made those wonderful sounds. And it catipulted an already high-flying number into the stratosphere.

Linden won a Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for 1970's "The Rothschilds." Time for him to win a Best Featured Actor in a Musical 39 years later. In your show.

More, I cannot wish you,

Lou Harry
Arts & Entertainment Editor
Indianapolis Business Journal
  • Yay! I'm glad you liked the show. I am planning on liking it Sunday night, too. Thanks for sharing this letter, Lou.

    Hope Baugh
  • I couldn't agree with you more!
  • Mr. Harry - I just returned home from performing with the wonderful Hal Linden in Guys & Dolls. The ISO is home turf for me, having appeared in Yuletide Celebration for the past 12 years, along with numerous other ISO Pops productions. I have to tell you that not only is your critique of Hal's performance spot on, he is every bit the gentleman he seems. He was gracious, professional and just plain fun. What a guy! The rest of the cast was equally wonderful, especially Ashley Brown, Hugh Panaro, Gary Beach and Megan Lawrence. We all had a lovely time and wished we could run for longer. The ISO does such a great job of finding terrific performers to come to Indy; every one of your readers should avail themselves of this opportunity to see Broadway-caliber productions in their own town. Broadway would be lucky to have Hal Linden in their cast!
  • I just returned home, too. Oh, Lou, you were right: this show was WONDERFUL. Thank you for urging me to go.

    Ellen, thank you to you and your colleagues for a real treat!

    Hope Baugh
  • I saw this Sunday night and was blown away. Your review on Hal Linden was exactly how I felt.

    Anyone who missed this, missed a truly enjoyable evening of entertainment.

    Janet Sutton
  • From the opening strains of the overture (played lusciously by the amazing Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra) to the final standing ovation, I was enrapt.

    I can't remember the last time I so totally and completely enjoyed myself during an evening of theatre. McAnuff would do well to cast the whole lot that appeared on the Circle Theatre stage. But thanks for appealing about Hal Linden. He's been a huge favorite of mine since I saw him in concert with Bernadette Peters at Starlight Musicals in the 1980s. What a delight!

    Dear ISO -- Please bring us MORE!!
  • This was truly one to remember. I grew up listening to mid-century musical scores (Rogers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, Jerome Kern) and I treasure the rich scoring of Guys & Dolls. I really should be heard with a full orchestra rather than a piano, synthesizer and rhythm section.

    The cast in this concert production were first-rate Broadway pros who worked it up for one weekend only. They had the crowd with them every step of the way. There was enough dialogue to move the story along, but the songs carried it with energy and musicality. The ISO, of course, was superb.

    Guys & Dolls contrasted with a disappointing Sherlock Holmes play at the IRT (closing night.) While visually satisfying, this was one of the weaker shows I've seen at the IRT. Nothing in the story was convincing or compelling. Looking forward to the next effort.

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