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Stage Light

These 'Guys and Dolls' Need Help

October 19, 2000|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

What the term Broadway means depends on how old you are. Today, it means "The Lion King." In a more timeless sense, though, it means "Guys and Dolls," perhaps the definitive New York musical and certainly the definitive work by composer-lyricist Frank Loesser, the ultimate Broadway baby.

Bringing "Guys and Dolls" to the fledgling Madrid Theatre--and with it a sense of classic Broadway--is a good idea on the part of producing company Golden Performing Arts Center, which previously did "Cabaret" and "Crazy For You." The Madrid, despite its dubious acoustics, has the right fit both out front and backstage for musicals, which tend to fare better under its roof than spoken-word plays.

But not even the most dyed-in-the-wool fan of this blissfully comic love letter to Damon Runyon can come away from director Ted Goldenberg's production with a sense that the Broadway spirit has possessed the Madrid. At once brightly cast and lethargic, energetically sung and unlistenable, this is by definition an uneven show on all fronts and most of all doesn't help younger audience members grasp Loesser's genius.

It takes a long time (deep into Act II with the rousing "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat") for this edition to deliver a show-stopper, although Loesser actually wrote about four for the show, which is four more than most musicals. Choreographer Gerry McIntyre's work finally comes into sync here with the kind of arching, jazzy, pumping style that made "Guys and Dolls" a precursor to "West Side Story." Before this, it's a long wait with a lot of sloppy group dancing and scratchy multi-part harmony singing.

What never gets into gear is conductor-pianist Paul McDonald's pit orchestra, which is so gratingly off-key, uncoordinated and clashing with the onstage singers that it nearly makes you wish for pre-taped scoring. A Broadway music masterpiece is pretty well butchered here, and in a song like "More I Cannot Wish You," it's outright war between an actor doing his job (Robert Mohler as evangelist do-gooder Arvide) and accompanists not doing theirs.

What works starts with Kevin P. Kern as a brash, engaging Nathan Detroit, desperately trying to arrange an underground crap game for such high rollers as Sky Masterson (Goldenberg), Big Jule (Arless Dean, blessed with a deliciously basso voice) and Harry the Horse (Adam Miller), while avoiding the law and the glares of his longtime fiance, Adelaide (K. Leigh Kern).

Both Kerns are fabulous together, while Goldenberg--with a stiff presence and even stiffer voice--is mismatched with the beautifully throated Nona Watson as Sarah, trying to save Gotham gamblers' souls and yet falling for Sky. George Lindsey Jr.'s Nicely Nicely Johnson teams with Patrick Tiller's Benny for a snazzy street pair. These guys give a taste of what could have been a satisfying sure-bet winner.

BE THERE

"Guys and Dolls," Madrid Theatre, 21622 Sherman Way, Canoga Park. Saturday 8 p.m., Sunday 2 p.m. Beginning Oct. 27, Fridays-Saturdays 8 p.m., Sundays 2 p.m. Ends Nov. 5. $18-$28. (818) 347-9938. Running time: 3 hours.

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