‘Guys and Dolls’ at American University by Jessica Vaughan


American University’s Department of Performing Arts puts on a slick, fast, and fun production of Guys and Dolls to kick off their 2012-2013 season.

Karl Kippola is both the director and choreographer, which is a big reason why this production is so smooth. Every moment of the play is feels like a dance, from the frenetic opening number in the chaos of this hyper New York of the 1950s to a quiet moment as two characters just walk across the stage in rhythm. Perhaps the highlight of the piece is the Cuban nightclub where an amazing dance becomes an all-out brawl. Kippola had some help with that scene from fight choreographer Robb Hunter and from the actors themselves.

The entire cast are skilled dancers and singers and I can’t imagine the rehearsal it took to organize not only complicated dance scenes (“Luck Be a Lady” had them literally climbing the walls), but also every moment onstage down to the 10 second scene changes. Taking on music this well-known while swinging around the stage might have been daunting, but Musical Director George Fulginiti-Shakar does not mess with success and helps the cast deliver a solid production of these classics from his position in the pit as conductor and keyboardist. The band was awesome. Every song was so smooth and fit seamlessly into the action. Trumpet players S. Craig Taylor and Eddie Shine were particularly good. The American University Department of Performing Arts obviously trains their students well.

Guys and Dolls is the story of two gamblers and the women they fall in love with. Ryan Burke (Sky Masterson) carries the production with charisma and a great voice. Adrianne Morrow-Jones (Sarah Brown in this production) matches him and her voice is heaven. Matthew Ingraham (Nathan Detroit) obviously delights in his role and keeps things fun. Roxy Reynolds (Adelaide in this performance) is simply awesome. She is a standout in this stellar, young cast; she can sing, act, and she has some serious comic timing. Jesse D. Saywell (Nicely-Nicely) inhabits his character and makes every movement count. Every moment he’s on stage you notice. Sarah Brown and Adelaide are being played by two actors each on alternate nights. Hayley Travers will play Sarah and Haely Jardas will take on Adelaide next.

Ryan Burke (Sky Masterson) and Matthew Ingraham (Nathan Detroit). Photo by Jeff Watts.

The “Mission Dolls”- Katherine Riddle, Molly Riddles, Alina Stone, and Hayley Travers – also deserve a shout out for imbuing four identically dressed, straight-laced missionaries with their own quirky personalities. The rest of the cast performs beautifully in role after role, costume change after costume change, dance after dance. It had to have been chaos backstage, but onstage there was never a missed step and every actor imbued every moment with personality and life.

Costume Designer Barbara Tucker Parker decks everyone out in authentic, stylish, and numerous period costumes. She chose cowgirl outfits for the show within a show number “Bushel and a Peck” and Havana was a riot of color and flying skirts. The mission dolls wear coordinated and tasteful grey and maroon outfits that fit the characters and the production well – strict, but stylish. My favorite was Nicely-Nicely’s plaid pants, checkered jacket, and bow tie.

Luciana Stecconi designed a set that did a fine job of conjuring the chaos of a fantasy 1950s New York without a single building by decking the stage with old-time advertising signs that are both frenetic and deceptively simple. Clever spinning signs transform the set quickly into the mission and the Hot Box nightclub. The lighting design by Jason Arnold contributed to the impression that the stage was much bigger than it was and that they really could be walking down Broadway before a backlit background of the NY skyline. He also did a great job with the Cuban moonlight and the yellow-drenched Havana nightclub.

One of the really unique and fun things about the theater – as opposed to any other medium – is that no director or author can completely control where the audience focuses their attention, nor would one want to. There can be little stories played out all over the stage beyond the main characters’ drama. I’ve seen few other productions that take full advantage of that like Guys and Dolls does. Every character on stage in every scene has a story and a history and the little five-second interactions in every scene in the background are a joy to watch, as is the main action in foreground in the hands of these passionate young performers.

Don’t miss this fabulous production of Guys and Dolls!

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 40 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission.

Guys and Dolls plays through October 27, 2012 at the Harold and Sylvia Greenberg Theatre – 4200 Wisconsin Ave, Washington, DC. For tickets, call 202-885-2587, or purchase them online.

 

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3 Responses to ‘Guys and Dolls’ at American University by Jessica Vaughan

  1. ms.patti October 20, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Love it and love you Jesse

  2. Mark S October 20, 2012 at 2:43 pm #

    Great review–saw the production last night and completely agree with your assessment, even with the alternate leads…

  3. richard b November 1, 2012 at 1:15 am #

    have to say – jesse d saywell as nicely-nicely stole the show. did not see roxie reynolds or the other sarah, but hard to believe anyone could outshine saywell in this great production.