The Column Online



Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Based on a Story and Characters of Damon Runyon

Lyric Stage

Directed and Choreographed by Penny Ayn Maas
Music Direction by Sheila Vaughn Walker
Scenic Design by Randel Wright
Lighting Design by Julie Simmons
Production Stage Management by Caroline Walker

CAST (in order of appearance)
Nicely-Nicely Johnson --- Mike Gallagher
Benny Southstreet --- John Tillman
Rusty Charlie --- Joseph Lee burnam
Sarah Brown --- Janelle Lutz
Arvide Abernathy --- David Fenley
Agatha --- Alyssa Barnes
Calvin --- Austin Zhuang
Martha --- Laura Smolik
Harry the Horse --- Mark Oristano
Lt. Brannigan --- Collin Phillips
Nathan Detroit --- Andy Baldwin
Angie the Ox --- Justin W. White
Miss Adelaide --- Catherine Carpenter Cox
Sky Masterson --- Christopher J. Deaton
Joey Baltimore --- Justin W. White
Mimi --- Cora Grace Winstead
Master of Ceremonies --- Greg Hullett
Waiter --- Justin W. White
General Matilda B. Cartwright --- Sarah Comley Caldwell
Drunk --- Matthew Steven Flowers
Mission Band Members --- Alyssa Barnes, Kailey Berry, Griffin Camacho, Jackie Malish, Laura Smolik
Hot Box Girl/ Havana Dancer --- Kate Brimmer, Shannon Conboy, Mackenna Milbourn, Bailey Poe, Ally Van Deuren, Cora grace Winstead
Crapshooter/Havana Dancer --- Matthew Steven Flowers, Lance Jewett, Ryan C. Machen, Brett Rawlings, Antonio Rodriguez, Collins Rush

Reviewed Performance: 6/9/2018

Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

“When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky/ You can bet that he’s doing it for some doll.”

When was the last time you sat in a marvelously restored old theater and actually heard a twenty-piece orchestra play a full overture before the curtain even opened? Yep, it just don’t happen anymore. Thank goodness Lyric Stage is continuing its wonderful work in its wonderful new space at The Majestic. Those lucky enough to catch a performance of Guys and Dolls before it closed its run were truly fortunate to be transported back in time to a gilded era of pure entertainment and escapism.

Guys and Dolls is based on short stories by Damon Runyon written in the 20s and 30s that feature gangster, gamblers, and other New York characters. The primary stories used are “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure,” with additional plot elements from other stories, including “Pick the Winner.”

The show premiered on Broadway in 1950, ran for 1200 performances, and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. There have been several Broadway and London revivals, as well as a film version in 1955.

The Lyric Stage production of Guys and Dolls opened on a wildly colorful scene of Runyonesque characters engaging in innocent and nefarious activities against Randel Wright’s backdrop of brightly colored and lighted marquees in forced perspective. An appreciative audience was openly receptive to the Runyonland opening number, which established time, place and characters, and set the tone and style for the remainder of the show.

Maintaining a smooth and consistent style of presentation in acting, movement and dance along with scene, costume and lighting design, takes a skilled hand at the helm, and Director/Choreographer Penny Ayn Maas proved herself more than capable for the job. One of the main joys of the production was the seamless approach to presentation. Each member of the ensemble established a unique character with a few well-placed mannerisms, vocal inflections and delivery, all within the vision established by Ms. Maas. She recreated a period piece that brought back the time period reminiscent of old Hollywood movies, yet still fresh and engaging. Every musical number ended with a precise “button,” and each joke and one liner was expertly delivered in rapid-fire dialogue exchanges that evoked classic movie comedies of the ‘30s. The style was just big enough to fill the big space at the Majestic without become caricature.

The four lead roles were beautifully cast and played by a skilled quartet of seasoned performers. Christopher J. Deaton played Sky Masterson with panache and ease, singing beautifully, as always, and looking suitably dashing. He and Ms. Lutz had real chemistry that payed off in their scenes and duets. As Sarah Brown, Janelle Lutz with her many experiences on DFW stages brought enormous presence and confidence, singing in her higher register with clarity and sweetness. She, of course, also knows how to be funny when needed, as the drunk scene in Havana proved.

Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit, played by Catherine Carpenter Cox and Andy Baldwin respectively, were the comic leads in the show, both consummate clowns with impeccable timing, engaging shtick, and terrific singing voices. Time and again they brought down the house with their antics, and proved that experience and refined technique are essential tools for any performer.

All four leads displayed notable control of their vocals and impressive attention to diction while singing. Consonants, the actor’s basic tool in being understood, were clearly articulated. Medial and final “Ds”, “Ts” and “Ks” were clear, making the lyrics distinctly understandable. Indeed, the entire cast evidenced control and careful attention to being intelligible. Much thanks, I’m assuming, to Music Director Sheilah Vaughn Walker. Ms Walker also led the orchestra with precision and finesse, giving the show a solid foundation of wonderful sound.

Mike Gallagher as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and John Tillman as Benny Southstreet charmed the audience with their banter, sang the title number to rousing applause, and Mr. Gallagher led the ensemble in the exhilarating “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” Other notable male characterizations by Mark Oristano as Harry the Horse, Collin Phillips as Lt. Brannigan, Greg Hullett as Big Jule, David Finley as Arvide Abernathy (with a lovely “More I Cannot Wish You”) Joseph Lee Burnam, Justin W. White, Austin Zhuang, Griffin Camacho and Matthew Steven Flowers fleshed out the musicalized world of Damon Runyon. No less impressive were the “Dolls” in the cast whether it was Sarah Comley Caldwell as General Matilda B. Cartwright or Alyssa Barnes, Laura Smolik, or Cora Grace Winstead in their roles.

A multi-talented singing, dancing, and acting ensemble impressed every time they took the stage. Penny Ayn Maas, in her role as Choreographer, seemed to delight in coming up with dance numbers reminiscent of the Golden Age of movie musicals. The Hot Box numbers were funny and campy without being too stereotypical, and the “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” dance ensemble of men was suitably athletic and exciting. The Mission Band Members were Alyssa Barnes, Kailey berry, griffin Camacho, Jackie Malish, and Laura Smolik. Kate Brimmer, Shannon Conboy, Mackenna Milbourn, Bailey Poe, Ally Van Deuren and Cora Grace Winstead made up the Hot Box Girls and Havana Dancers, and Matthew Steven Flowers, Lance Jewett, Ryan C. Machen, Brett Rawlings, Antonio Rodriguez and Collilns Rush appeared as the Crapshooters and Havana Dancers.

Scenery by Randel Wright was bright, colorful, and imaginative. The interior of the Mission looked a little bare, and the Havana scenery looked unfinished to me, but the Times Square marquees, the Sewer and the Hot Box were impressive and served the tone and style of the show expertly. The use of what appeared to be black light to make some of the drops glow also worked well.

Lighting by Julie Simmons was bright and cheerful when necessary, and also atmospheric when needed. Spots for streetlights and other practical elements helped establish time and place. Costumes by Drenda Lewis were evocative of the era and defined each character clearly and with humor. Hot Box costumes were great fun, and the uniforms for the Mission worked with their maroon color. Characters were clearly identifiable in keeping with the Director’s approach to the style and tone of the show.

Guys and Dolls, of course, is a show filled with wonderful musical numbers and memorable characters. Attitudes like “marry the man today – and change his ways tomorrow” reflect the time period, as do the roles of “guys” and “dolls,” the objectification of women in the Hot Box scenes, and the clear stereotypes in the opening number, but it somehow seemed all in good fun in this show. The heightened Runyonesque language (also reflected in the lyrics) and the slightly tongue in cheek approach to the presentation worked together to create a picture that might have been more of a loving impression than a photograph.

With more “book” than is usual today, Lyric Stage’s Guys and Dolls was enormously entertaining, slick, clean and bright in the way all the best shows are. Lyric Stage continues their tradition of fine musical theater with a large orchestra and use of local talent, including the cooperation of SMU and TCU to great effect in this show. A great musical, a perfect setting, a big orchestra and an outstanding cast of performers made for a memorable evening. Lyric Stage just keeps upping its game!

Lyric Stage
The Majestic Theater
Dallas, TX

The show closed June 10th, 2018