Bay Area Theater Review: GUYS AND DOLLS (Berkeley Playhouse)

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by Stacy Trevenon on April 3, 2013

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

DETROIT COMES TO BERKELEY

The Berkeley Playhouse production of Guys and Dolls is just the thing for a theater lover, a fan of this timeless musical, or a family to kick back and enjoy. The show, directed by Jon Tracy, is meant to be pure entertainment, with well-executed catchy Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema Bay Area Review of GUYS AND DOLLS at Berkeley Playhouseand hummable songs, fun and lively dance, lots of laughs, a sweet love story and overall G-rated fun you can get behind.

Just a hair short of professional level but still a generous cut above community theater, this Berkeley Playhouse production of the Frank Loesser classic lives up to the promise made in its program, to be a “musical treat.” And it is, but not just because it’s a fun show to begin; there are also many levels of originality and creativity that went into the production. While you’re hearing old favorites like the gusty “Follow the Fold,” sweetly hopeful “I’ll Know,” saucy “A Bushel and a Peck,” hilarious “Adelaide’s Lament,” determinedly optimistic “Luck Be a Lady,” penitent “Sue Me,” spirited “Marry the Man Today” or loving “More I Cannot Wish You,” there are a lot of new touches this show presents that are just as fun to see.

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema Bay Area Review of GUYS AND DOLLS at Berkeley PlayhouseTo begin with, while I enjoyed every moment of this family classic, I was not so carried away that I did not notice and become impressed by the unique staging. Mr. Tracy and Nina Ball’s set slants upward, complemented by silhouettes that suggest a city skyline. The slant promotes an illusion of city size and space that made it a treat to watch actors and dancers pour down the raked space. Exits up and down the ramp furthered the illusion of size and a big city and gave the actors plenty of room to pop in and out, enhancing the fun. This new slant on an old favorite was effective and amusing.

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema Bay Area Review of GUYS AND DOLLS at Berkeley PlayhouseWhile the acting and singing were mixed, the overall effect was completely satisfying. Angel Burgess and Carmichael J. Blankenship paired up nicely as a stiffly reserved (but with hidden fires) Sarah Brown and a suave but sensitive Sky Masterson. Michael Scott Wells presented a roguishly charming Nathan Detroit, caught between the lure of the crap game and Miss Adelaide. As Miss Adelaide, Sarah Mitchell is a standout – a master of the subtle but powerful effect of a rolled eye or an injured sniff, all of which she beautifully pairs up with a powerful and highly emotive voice.

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema Bay Area Review of GUYS AND DOLLS at Berkeley PlayhouseTerry Rucker is admirable as he turns in distinctive, three-dimensional characterizations of several different characters, from mission patriarch Arvide Abernathy to a suave master of ceremonies to the imposing gambling kingpin, Big Jule. Joshua Castro does more than nicely as Nicely Nicely Johnson, Matthew McCoy is endearingly slimy as Harry the Horse, and Mary Gibboney is majestic as General Cartwright.

Chris Black’s choreography, though stylized, is refreshingly original and fits well into the New York City of naughty days of gamblers; the cadre of Hot Box and Havana dancers brings stunning sizzle to the proceedings. The cast sounds robust under Robert Michael’s great music direction. Abra Berman’s costumes reflect older days but with a quirky flair tailored perfectly for the just-as-quirky characters. The overall color scheme was muted with occasional sparkles, like gamblers’ powder-blue shoes, which underlined the time frame while lending its own distinctive touch.

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema Bay Area Review of GUYS AND DOLLS at Berkeley PlayhouseMany props, rather than being actually used, were implied (i.e. dice being thrown) but with skill and finesse which enhanced the overall effect rather than detracted from it (as it might have, had actual dice rolled down that slanted stage!)

Take a gamble. Go see this one.

photos by Ken Levin

Guys and Dolls
Berkeley Playhouse
scheduled to end on April 28, 2013
for tickets, call 510-845-8542 x 351 or visit http://www.berkeleyplayhouse.org

Stacy Trevenon's Stage and Cinema Bay Area Review of GUYS AND DOLLS at Berkeley Playhouse

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