You didn’t have to take Amtrak to Broadway this past weekend to find “The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York.” All you had to do was to drive out to Vienna, Virginia to Thoreau Middle School and witness their joyful spring musical – Guys and Dolls, JR.
The students completed a successful dress rehearsal for Thoreau students and then four consecutive sold-out performances. This feat only proved that today’s young performers are waiting in the wings to be the theatrical stars of tomorrow. And we witnessed this from the opening number “Fugue for Tinhorns” (“I got the Horse right here…”) sung by Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Luke Hemmingson), Benny Southstreet (Nathan Ritter), and Rusty Charlie (Andrew Johnson). Together, this trio hit all the right notes and harmonies in providing the audience a home run in the show’s opening number. I knew then that the audience was in for a wonderful treat.
For those who may have never seen Guys and Dolls, a quick synopsis of the plot may be helpful: Big-time gamblers have arrived in the “City that Never Sleeps” depending on Nathan Detroit’s (Luke Kustra) skills in setting up the nightly crap game. Nathan is constantly avoiding Police LT. Brennigan, whose mission is to determine the nightly location. Simultaneously, we have Sarah Brown (Jacqueline Clark) who runs the neighborhood mission and is searching for those who need her spiritual enlightenment and appears to always face disappointing attendance. Sky Masterson (Neal Going), one of those big-time gamblers, accepts a $1000 bet from Nathan that he can’t get Sarah to go to Havana with him. Less we forget, Miss Adelaide (Maille-Rose Smith), who is in love with Nathan and wants to marry him. With a popular score and lyrics by Frank Loesser, the show is a consistent winner.
We find ourselves immersed in the opening set which includes a park bench, the New York Skyline against the stage backdrop, and a sign indicating the location of Mindy’s Cheese Cake Bakery. This alternated with the second major set of the evening – the Save the Souls Church which is comprised of a church building and pews. Another ingenious design was to simulate the airplane trip to Havana. One of the actresses got dressed as an airplane and proceeded to personally “fly” her plane across the stage from the labeled New York City and Havana signs on either end of the stage simulating bad weather with audio reminders to buckle your seat belts. Another visual delight was ‘steam’ coming out of the stage lights during one of the crap games in the New York City sewer system.
Every time Sergeant Sarah Brown appeared on set with her cadre of sisters and band members from the Save the Soul Church they were all dressed in bright red as they entered from the rear of the hall, walked around the perimeter of the audience and across the front of the stage. Some carried signs with scrawled verbiage like “Follow the Fold.” This was the perfect modus operandi to keep the audience on their toes as the theater space enveloped the entire room at times throughout the evening.
Although all of the actors did a marvelous job in their respective roles, special mention goes to Maille-Rose Smith who played the role of Adelaide. She did a fine job of capturing a perfect New York accent. Smith’s delivery of “I kind of like it when you forget my birthday. It almost makes me feel we are married,” earned many laughs from the audience, as did her songs “Adelaide’s Lament” and “Adelaide’s Second Lament.” Neal Going (Sky Masterson) was terrific conveying his true love for Sergeant Sarah Brown as he sang “My Time of Day/I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” and then joined Jacqueline Clark in the beautiful duet, “I Know.” Luke Kustra’s Nathan Detroit was hilarious, especially some of his facial expressions when he conveyed somewhat conflicted emotions.
Finally, I eagerly awaited the Hot Box Dancers, who were reminiscent of the annual Christmas Rockettes show at Radio City Music Hall, each time they appeared in a scene. Why? Every time they took over the stage, they were dressed in multi-colorful outfits. The song “Take Back your Mink” had ten girls in the same dress in different colors, with a set of beads around each of their necks. As they stripped off their minks and beads and threw them both on the stage floor, I couldn’t help but honor their acting skills and timing, which made their performance of the song such a huge success. A special congrats to the “Costume Moms” who worked so hard making the colorful costumes for this production.
After the show, I had the opportunity to speak to Producer/Director Elizabeth Malone, the recently-hired Theater Arts Director at Thoreau Middle School. When she began her job she was told that one of her responsibilities was continuing the school tradition of doing a spring musical, and this year’s musical was already selected for her – Guys and Dolls. With 45 actors/actresses in the show and 15 staff members behind the scenes, it was a monumental challenge. Elizabeth held auditions in December, had the cast chosen before the holidays, and started rehearsals in January 2013, with performances scheduled for this past weekend. And what a fabulous job she and her entire cast and designers and staff did!
Running Time: Two hours with one intermission.
Guys and Dolls played from April 25-27, 2013 at Thoreau Middle School – 2505 Cedar Lane, in Vienna, VA. Check out the school’s website for their upcoming theatre announcements.