Chicago Theatre Review
The Perfect Musical Comedy Presented Perfectly
Guys and Dolls – BrightSide Theatre
This joyous visit back to the world of Broadway gamblers, showgirls and the Save-a-Soul Mission during the 1950’s is a musical ode to writer Damon Runyon. His colorfully quirky cast of memorable Manhattanites are a wonderful collection of funny, unique characters. And this theatre company’s eager to take audiences on Frank Loesser’s mirthful musical trip down memory lane.
Thanks to artistic director Jeffrey Cass, who puts his original stamp on this production of “the perfect musical comedy,” we’re treated to an exciting, highly polished and most entertaining finale to BrightSide Theatre’s 6th season. Superb casting, a great script and a score filled with wonderful, classic songs are the primary selling points for this production. Coupled with Cass’ unique, three-quarter round staging, Sarah Giordano’s marvelously talented offstage orchestra and musical direction, and Jeni Donahue’s bright, energetic choreography, audiences are treated to a delightful, multi Tony Award-winning show from Broadway’s Golden Era that feels fresh, all over again.
Times Square twinkles with color and pizzazz, thanks to Brett Baleskie’s evocative scenic design, brightly accented with billboard ads and lighted theatre marquees. Shana Hall’s vibrant, period perfect costumes well define each character and give a true Runyon-esque look to the show. Carley Walker’s gorgeous palette of lighting, particularly during the overture and entr’acte, wash the stage with luminosity and a lighthearted mood. Ms. Giordano jump-starts this familiar score by making musical standards, like “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” sound original and almost contemporary. Cass’ skill at staging large group scenes, as well as smaller, more intimate couplings, truly shines in this production. Ms. Donahue’s choreography particularly sparkles in dance/movement numbers like the “The Crapshooter’s Dance,” the sultry “Take Back Your Mink” and the show-stopping gospel-flavored, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” which features silver-throated Matt Gibson, as a likable Nicely-Nicely Johnson.
But if that wasn’t enough, several exceptional actors make this musical all their own. The ladies of the cast are the starring standouts. Laura Sportiello, (recently wowing audiences at Theo Ubique in “The Most Happy Fella”) whose lovely, effortless soprano, classy demeanor and coquettish flirtation must be precisely what Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling envisioned when they created the character of Sister Sarah Brown. She vocally caresses such musical classics as “I’ll Know,” “If I Were a Bell” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”
Stylish and sexy, ditzy, yet smart in all the right ways, and blessed with a powerful voice able to effortlessly belt out Loesser’s music and lyrics, Jillian Weingart is absolute perfection as Miss Adelaide. She plays every note, both comic and melodramatic, in songs like “Adelaide’s Lament,” “Sue Me” and in all of her sexy Hotbox numbers. And together these two terrific singers make “Marry the Man Today” one of the musical highlights of this production.
Matched by Ryan Bennett’s wry, Frank Sinatra-like Sky Masterson, with his droll line-readings, mellow vocals and perfect timing, you get one brilliant romantic pairing. Gibson, Jeff Wright and Andrew Taylor Swanson nicely complement each another, both vocally and comedically. Always looking for the next crap game, they open the show, as a trio of insatiable gamblers, with their harmonic “Fugue for Tinhorns.” Dennis Schnell is filled with bluster, buffoonery and comic energy as Nathan Detroit, and veteran actor Mark Dedowicz creates a memorable Big Jule, the characterization that probably comes closest to being authentic and faithful to the soul of Damon Runyon’s stories.
Theatergoers looking for the perfect musical comedy, staged here with energy, brilliance and style, and polished as bright as a new penny, should “Follow the Fold” to Naperville where the 1950’s looks and sounds brand new again, like an overflowing “Bushel and a Peck.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented June 9-25 by BrightSide Theatre at Meiley-Swallow Hall of North Central College, 31 S. Ellsworth St., Naperville, IL.
Tickets are available in person, the night of the shows, by calling 630-447-8497 or by going to www.brightsidetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.