Friday, May 8, 2015

Guys and Dolls—Oregon Shakespeare Festival—Ashland, OR

A Sure Bet

This classic musical from the 50’s is playing at the Bowmer theatre through November 1st.  It is directed by Mary Zimmerman, with musical direction by Doug Peck and choreography by Daniel Pelzig.  It was based on characters by Damon Runyon, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows.  For more information, go to their site at www.osfashland.org or call 541-482-4331.

The play takes place in the (Damon) Runyon-ese New York City of the 1930’s, when bootleggers, strippers and gangsters ruled the downtown.  But through Runyon’s eyes, he saw them as marvelous characters, more naughty children waiting to be tamed by a good man or woman.  The stage version had Robert Alda (Alan’s father) and Sam Levine as the male leads with Vivian Blaine (reprising her role for the film) as Adelaide.  The film had Brando and Sinatra in it.

The musical is pretty typical of those plays of the 50’s, with two people of different backgrounds merging together in the end, as servants of Cupid’s arrows.  And, of course, there are the supporting, usually comic or humorous characters, best buddies, who are usually wiser then the young lovers.  And, of course, there must be obstacles to overcome before the love birds can nest.  Actually much like Shakespeare’s comedies, which is probably why he is considered a universal writer.

In this incarnation, Sky (Jeremy Peter Johnson) is a roving, good-natured gambler of horses, Crap games and just about anything that moves, he’ll bet on.  His counter-part in this love game is the straight-laced, Sarah (Kate Hurster), a Salvation Army leader, out to reform the city, seemingly singlehandedly.  Then, there is the veteran hustler, Nathan (Rodney Gardiner), running a floating crap game, able to appear in any part of the City.  And his main squeeze is a burlesque dancer named, Adelaide (Robin Goodrin Nordli), not the sharpest knife in the drawer, who he’s been engaged to for 14 years.

An important mobster from Chicago, Big Jule (Richard Elmore), has arrived in town to attend this infamous game.  But Nathan and his henchmen, Nicely-Nicely (Daniel T. Parker), Benny (David Kelly) and Rusty (Joe Wegner) are having trouble finding a spot for the big game.  And it doesn’t help that Lt. Brannigan (Robert Vincent Frank) is breathing down their necks, hoping to round up the whole gang.  Will the elusive Sky win over the strict schoolmarm?  Will Adelaide get her wish of a diamond ring on her finger to cement their relationship?  Will Nathan find a spot for his infamous game?  Well, you just have to see the show, won’t you, to find out.

This show is so full of pep that even the Energizing Bunny would find it hard to keep up.  It has loads of popular songs, and the dance numbers (Pelzig) are absolutely astounding!  Nordli wows you with her “Adelaide’s Lament,” and Parker knocks your socks off with “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”  And Zimmerman has done such a super job of keeping things moving that the set changes become part of the show.  All in all, a rowdy, rollicking, romp seen through rose-colored glasses of a by-gone era.

The performers are all amazing being, not only good singers and dancers but good actors as well, a triple-threat as Broadway would say.  Gardiner and Johnson are wonderfully adept at playing the smooth but not always bright, conmen.  Hurster has a good voice and is very funny when she finally lets her hair down.  And Parker really knocks’ em dead with his voice.  As well as does Nordli, who is a powerful belter and shows it.  But, for me, the dance numbers (Pelzig) knock this show out of the park!

A side note, back in ‘67 or ’68, I performed Big Jule in SOC’s (now SOU) musical of this show.  And the director of it was, none other than Dr. Angus Bowmer, the Founder of OSF.  I greatly appreciated taking classes from him and being directed by his artistic hand.  What he started some 80 years ago will truly echo loudly for generations to come!

I highly recommend this show.  If you do see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.



The Ashland Experience (Part II)

My favorite place to stay when in Ashland, is the Ashland Springs Hotel.  It is right in the middle of town, next door to the OSF theatres.  It also has secured parking so you can easily walk to anything downtown during your stay and never have to use the car.  It also has a very fine complimentary breakfast which is both nutritious and filling.  And the rooms and the staff are very pleasant. Check it out at www.ashlandspringshotel.com or call 1-888-795-4545. I highly recommend this place.  If you do stay there, please tell them Dennis sent you.

 
Photos by Dave Paull