Summer Youth Production of ‘Guys and Dolls’ at the Laurel Mill Playhouse by Amanda Gunther

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Luck be a lady for the 2012 Summer Youth Production of Guys and Dolls at the Laurel Mill Playhouse. The musical fable of Broadway hits the stage with 30 young actors singing and dancing to Frank Loesser’s most popular music and lyrics, and is directed by Jocelyn Knazik, with musical direction by Stu Knazik. Sound and speed issues aside – there are some incredibly talented youths in the performance.

Sky Masterson (Timothy Baeder) and the Gambling Sinners for "Luck Be A Lady." Photo courtesy of the Laurel Mill Playhouse.

One of the most unique and pleasant things about the production is Set Designer David Phelps’ attention to detail. He crafts an incredible cityscape that slowly pops to life as sign after lighted sign blinks into existence from total darkness during the overture. The ‘Hot Box’ sign is the most elegant of all being crafted of swanky red letters that sparkle a grade above the rest. Phelps continues to impress the audience by dropping large pipes from the ceiling during the big craps game in act II to simulate being down in the sewers; a lively and different approach to staging this pivotal plot moment.

Going hand in hand with creating the atmosphere of New York City in the 20’s Costume Designer Kat Binney sets a bar and delivers with flawless distinctions between the sinners and the saints. With sharp pinstripe suits, in powder blue for characters like Nathan Detroit, and sassy pastel cha-cha skirts for the dancers in Havana, Binney provides a lively pallet of colors and styles that are suited for this show.

The most impressive aspect of this performance is the well synchronized choreography. The audience is treated to a number of large dance scenes, all choreographed by Hannah Mollerick. The boys get to show off their flashy moves in “Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York,” with a series of slides and spins that give these gamblers an extra level of class. Several of these moves are repeated to a more elegant extreme in “Luck Be A Lady.” Mollerick doesn’t leave the ladies out of her plan as we see a series of more intricate dance routines displayed by Adelaide and the Hot Box Girls during “Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink,” including a circular spinning interlocked kick-line featured in the latter.

Director Jocelyn Knazik’s focus is highlighting individual character profiles. This work is most apparent in the two minor roles of Lieutenant Brannigan and Arvide Abernathy. Brannigan (San Besse) plays the most formidable character in the entire show. Popping up here and there frightening the daylights out of the gamblers in a silent film shenanigans style, he keeps the sinners on their toes. Besse portrays the suspicious cop from the moment he enters the scene without turning it into an over-exaggerated caricature.

Miss Adelaide (Danielle McCants) and her Hot Box Dancers for "Take Back Your Mink." Photo courtesy of the Laurel Mill Playhouse.

Michael Culhane (Abernathy) creates a leading character from this minor role. Culhane takes great pains in making himself look age appropriate, not only just spraying his hair gray but painting his face in such a way that he looks like a withered old grandfather. Add to that the unique choice of Scotch-Irish accent that gives the character a fun quirk and this minor grandfather becomes a major success. Culhane sings a sweet Scottish lullaby with his solo “More I Cannot Wish You” and provides subtle comic relief to situations that are fraught with tension.

Just like the gambles that the sinners take throughout the show, the vocal projection of these performers are hit and miss. And isn’t so much from lack of projection as it is from lack of balance in their projection. In songs like “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat” Nicely Nicely Johnson (Stafford Nibley) is hardly heard telling his story because the chorus washes him away like the waves of his dreams. The same happens any time Sgt. Sarah Brown (Amanda Dunsdon) sings with another individual, be it duet or group number.

Combining with the volume control issues Sky Masterson (Timothy Baeder) seems to have a speeding problem that traffics itself right off his lips. For most of the first act his lines are rolling so quickly you can barely catch a word he says. But despite Baeder’s speedy tongue he has a voice that is more than powerful enough to pull off the role. He sings over the chorus when he needs to and provides a sturdy belt during “Luck Be A Lady.” Baeder’s style of singing is more than a perfect match for the character, suave and rich, layering the smooth gambler and curious lover within him into the songs he sings with Sarah.

But the sensational stars that really carry the show are good old reliable Nathan Detroit (Noah Wright) and his dear doll Miss Adelaide (Danielle McCants). The pair has the perfect dichotomy of the love-hate relationship, playing well off one another in every scene.

Wright has developed his character with a sense of refined grit; a gambler at heart with a doll on his mind. He truly understands comic timing, giving those often desperate needed pauses to let a joke or important moment settle with his fellow actors and he listens to what’s being said, responding in turn rather than just reciting his lines. This aspect of his performance is highlighted during the scene where he responds to Adelaide’s lies to her mother, with hysterical vocal and physical reactions. Wright carries a powerful voice that wins the crowd over with “Sue Me” as he pours his heart out to his doll; an amazing talent from this young performer if ever there was one.

Danielle McCants is the female sensation of the show. She manages to maintain the cute nasally New York City accent expected of Adelaide’s character and has a cheeky sass to her attitude that is just the mixture of love for Nathan and disgust of his crap game. McCants has the loudest most powerful voice of the entire cast and isn’t afraid to show it off in numbers like “Take Back Your Mink” and “Bushel and a Peck.” But her signature moment is “Adelaide’s Lament” where she gives us an uproarious scene of priceless facial expressions as it dawns on her that Nathan is the root of her cold.

So roll the dice (just don’t bring your own) and hope you end up owing Sky your soul, so that you too can get a seat at the Save-A-Soul prayer mission and see the great feats some of these talented youths have to offer during this production of Guys & Dolls.

Running Time: Two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission.

Sky Masterson (Timothy Baeder) and Sgt Sarah Brown (Amanda Dunsdon). Photo courtesy of the Laurel Mill Playhouse.

Guys and Dolls plays through August 19, 2012 at The Laurel Mill Playhouse – 508 Main Street, in Laurel, Maryland. For ticket reservations call the box office at (301) 617-9906. Tickets are available for purchase at the door up to an hour prior to show time, with cash or check payments only.

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Amanda Gunther is an actress, a writer, and loves the theatre. She graduated with her BFA in acting from the University of Maryland Baltimore County and spent two years studying abroad in Sydney, Australia at the University of New South Wales. Her time spent in Sydney taught her a lot about the performing arts, from Improv Comedy to performance art drama done completely in the dark. She loves theatre of all kinds, but loves musicals the best. When she’s not working, if she’s not at the theatre, you can usually find her reading a book, working on ideas for her own books, or just relaxing and taking in the sights and sounds of her Baltimore hometown. She loves to travel, exploring new venues for performing arts and other leisurely activities. Writing for the DCMetroTheaterArts as a Senior Writer gives her a chance to pursue her passion of the theatre and will broaden her horizons in the writer’s field.