‘Guys and Dolls’ at McLean Community Players

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A guy will do crazy things for the doll that he’s sweet on. Bet, cheat, lie, steal…and give up doing all that stuff too. The McLean Community Players dove headfirst into the riotous situations caused by this devotion with a perfect musical comedy. Featuring direction by Rachelle Horn, music direction by Keith Tittermary, choreography by Danny McKay, and an array of local talent both in front and behind the curtain, the newest production of the classic Guys and Dolls is not to be missed.

Miss Adelaide (Jocelyn Steiner) gives Nathan Detroit (Rich Amada) an engagement present. Photo by Traci J. Brokks Studios.
Miss Adelaide (Jocelyn Steiner) gives Nathan Detroit (Rich Amada) an engagement present. Photo by Traci J. Brokks Studios.

In its original production, opening in 1950, Guys and Dolls ran for 1,200 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. No doubt the acclaim was at least partially due to the brilliant music and lyrics by Frank Loesser- with beloved songs still recognizable today such as “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”- and the hilarious book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, all based off the characters and stories of writer Damon Runyon. MCP lives up to this precedent with a fabulous interpretation of their own.

Technical Director Lauren Thomas successfully synthesized the many incredible scenic elements of the show in order to create a seamless, fast-paced, and visually stimulating production.

A particular example of two technical elements working together smoothly was the lighting design by Jeffrey Scott Auerbach and set design by Bill Brown. Through complex gobos and psychedelic color, Auerbach augmented the detailed flats conceptualized by Brown with a lit Bible quote on the side of the Save a Soul Mission, a crescent moon high in the sky, and tropically colored Havana palm trees. The lighting design also succeeded in indicating the passage of time as the main plot of Guys and Dolls takes place over the course of a mere two days, combining colors beautifully to portray sunrise, sunset, and all the day and night in between. Before the show and during intermission, Auerbach also had a light in the shape of the show’s logo to project on the curtain, a nice touch to provide an interesting visual while waiting for the production to begin.

Sky Masterson (Andrew Bolden) and Sarah Brown (Elizabeth Hester) sing about finding true love ("I'll Know"). Photo by Traci J Brooks Studios.
Sky Masterson (Andrew Bolden) and Sarah Brown (Elizabeth Hester) sing about finding true love (“I’ll Know”). Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

Brown worked with the complex lighting design with a relatively simple design consisting of a few sets of flats flown down from above the stage when appropriate and a couple separate pieces that were carried on quickly by a professionally managed stage crew. This relatively minimalistic set worked to speed up transitions, moving the long show along and maintaining audience attention, while also allowing space for group choreography. Brown’s vision was fulfilled by Set Constructor George Farnsworth and Set Dresser and Scenic Painter Mary MacFarlane. For example, a frequently used set of three flats was decorated with a cartoonish portrait of New York City, setting both the scene and tone of the musical.

Costumer Kathy Dunlap stayed true to the time period and setting of the musical with oversized suits and fedoras galore. Most notable were the many matching farm girl outfits and elaborate gowns for Adelaide and her Hot Box Girls during their two performances.

Veteran Director Rachelle Horn showed her considerable chops in this production. The opening scenes showing the hustle-bustle of New York with the many characters wandering around was both amusing and a perfect beginning to introduce the show. In addition, Choreographer Danny McKay made his debut with this production. His choreography was undeniably simplistic but mostly workable and well-performed by the enthusiastic ensemble; the Hot Box dances were most memorable with kick-lines and other dynamic synchronized movement. While such numbers as “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” could have used a bit more direction to make it a true showstopper, the choreography was overall impressive.

The orchestra and vocalists were coordinated near perfectly by Music and Vocal Director Keith Tittermary.

The two leading guys were played with aplomb and pizzazz, both possessing strong voices that swelled in solo numbers and supported in the many ensemble songs. Sky Masterson (Andrew Bolden) was the picture of a suave gambler with cocky physicality and mischievous charm. Bolden pulled off the daring gambler’s persona with superior smiles and an undeniable magnetism, with his performance of “Luck Be a Lady” standing out as most captivating.

Meanwhile, Nathan Detroit (Rich Amada) ran around with a comic distress, trying desperately to locate a place for his crap game while also attempting to keep his side job secret from his fiancée. His interactions with his henchmen and the many men anxious to blow off steam at his game were particularly ridiculous, in the best way. Both men were hysterical as the musical followed their dual storylines to conclusion.

The two leading dolls matched their love interests note for note in talent and charisma. Sarah Brown (Elizabeth Hester) personified the strait-laced missionary worker with proper posture and heartfelt sincerity. While her initial reaction to Bolden’s Sky is appropriately icy, the quick ‘chemistry lesson’ of Havana soon has the two head-over-heels for each other. Hester’s “If I Were a Bell” was utterly adorable in her exhilarated drunken state, and her duet with Bolden of “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” continued to add to the genuine feel of their relationship.

Adelaide (Jocelyn Steiner) took on the more comic role with panache, keeping up her exaggerated New York accent through the whole show to great effect. Her “Lament” where she complained about the cold she had developed by waiting around for Amada’s Nathan for fourteen years was simultaneously amusing while also possessing an element of heartwrenching. Yet their connection was, again, undeniable in the sweet and funny duet “Sue Me”. Steiner and Hester ultimately join forces to one of the most enjoyable numbers of “Marry the Man Today” where they mutually decide to just secure the guy they love and slowly help them change from their evil ways afterwards.

Lt Brannigan (Joe LeBlanc) warns Nicely-Nicely (Keith Tittermary) and Benny Southstreet (Mike Holland) about gambling. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.
Lt Brannigan (Joe LeBlanc) warns Nicely-Nicely (Keith Tittermary) and Benny Southstreet (Mike Holland) about gambling. Photo by Traci J. Brooks Studios.

The smaller roles were no less talented than the four lead performers. Nicely Nicely (Keith Tittermary in his spare time from Musical Direction) performed the memorable “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” with explosive energy and enthusiasm that contagiously spread to his fellow performers and the audience too. Arvide Abernathy (Bob Ashby) also gave a stand-out performance with his moving “More I Cannot Wish You” to Hester’s Sarah Brown. Throughout the show, Ashby and Hester displayed an easy father-daughter type bond which served to round out both of their characters.

The ensemble as a whole must be commended for their ceaseless vitality through this arduous and energetic musical. All members threw themselves into the numbers with abandon, particularly in songs such as the ones at The Hot Box, “A Bushel and A Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink”, and the wordless “Havana” and “The Crapshooters Dance.”

So guys, if you’re looking for a way to treat your doll, take her out to MCP’s production of Guys and Dolls. Both of you are sure to enjoy it immensely!

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one-15 minute intermission.

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Guys and Dolls plays on weekends from July 11-27, 2014, at the McLean Community Center’s Alden Theatre – 1234 Ingleside Avenue, in McLean, VA. For tickets, call the Alden Box Office, through OvationTix at (866) 811-4111, or purchase them online. Tickets are $18 to $20, and group rates are available.

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‘Guys and Dolls’ Opens July 11th at McLean Community Players at Alden Theatre by Cathy Farnsworth.

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Emma Paquette
Emma Paquette will be a senior at McLean High School next fall where she will continue as Lead Critic of the acclaimed Cappies team. With this program, she has been published on the Washington Post, ShowBIzRadio, among other incredible news sources for theatre in the DC area. Emma will also be a Teen Critic for the Shakespeare Theatre Company in their 2014-2015 season and has run various elements of technical theatre at her high school and for the Little Butterfly Theatre Company. In her spare time, she also writes creatively and reads whatever books she can get her hands on.