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Musical Make-Over

Enriched characters, strong supporting cast lift 'Guys and Dolls.'


If there's a musical that's more sheer fun than "Guys and Dolls," I've yet to see it--and I've seen a lot of musicals. And Moorpark College's current production is one that the cast and production crew can be proud of.

Briefly, it's the tale of Sky Masterson, a playboy New York gambler who bets that he can win a date with the first woman who's pointed out to him--who turns out to be Sarah Brown, sergeant in a Salvation Army-like soul-saving brigade. A second story line deals with the lengthy engagement of one Nathan Detroit and showgirl Miss Adelaide.

The characters were drawn from the works of Damon Runyon, a now largely forgotten author who dealt with Gotham's grittier types. But these aren't gangsters out of a Martin Scorsese movie; with the exception of Big Julie, a sinister visitor from Chicago, they're mainly interested in gambling. The third story line has to do with Nathan's attempt to find a spot for the evening's edition of "The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York," to name one of Frank Loesser's terrific songs.

Sky and Sarah are often rather thin characters, but director Les Weider, musical director Marilyn Anderson and choreographers Dennon and Sayhber Rawles worked with actors John Koladziej and Sara Ford to give the characters more dimension, and--in Sarah's case--more humor than usual. They're strong singers, too.

Sam Golzari and Jaclyn Harriott make much of the comic leads Nathan and Adelaide, and there are numerous strong supporting performances: Bruce Jump as Harry the Horse, Warren Middleton as Big Julie, Scott Gilbert as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Jack Nelson as Sarah's superior come immediately to mind.

The large orchestra conducted by Bob Aguilar sounded better and better as opening night progressed, and the members of the large ensemble are consistently supportive (one would find it hard to overplay in this context, but one fellow really hams up a secondary role).


Although the dancing is seldom one of the stronger attributes of a community theater or college musical theater production, it's notable in this "Guys and Dolls." Much of the responsibility can be laid at the feet, so to speak, of the Rawleses.

Dennon Rawles has been teaching part time at Moorpark College since 1992; his wife, Sayhber, who choreographed last season's "Sweet Charity," joined the faculty in 1998.

They've danced and choreographed professionally for nearly 30 years, with numerous credits in film (both worked as choreographers on "Stayin' Alive" and "Bugsy"), television and music videos. Dennon Rawles was for several years assistant to Michael Kidd, who (among numerous other credits) had choreographed the original 1950 Broadway production of "Guys and Dolls."

"[Sayhber and I] had seen several different productions of 'Guys and Dolls' and been disappointed in the choreography--we've seen the 'Luck Be a Lady' sequence staged where you didn't know that the characters were supposed to be shooting dice . . . [what we do] has to do with creating the essence of the 1940s characters with dance."

The two worked together on some numbers, Dennon explained. However, he choreographed most of "Luck Be a Lady Tonight," and his wife is largely responsible for "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat."

"Sayhber is so terrific with motivating character," he said. " 'Stop worrying about that pretty note,' she'll tell them, 'and think about what you're saying with that song.' "


"Guys and Dolls" continues Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through April 1 at the Moorpark College Performing Arts Center on Collins Road off the Ronald Reagan Freeway. The matinee performances are not recommended for the general public, due to parking restrictions. Tickets to all shows are $10; $8 students and seniors; and $6 children under 12. For reservations or further information, call 378-1485.

Todd Everett can be reached at

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