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  • “GUYS AND DOLLS” – The Old Globe

    “GUYS AND DOLLS” – The Old Globe

    What makes a great musical? A memorable score, fascinating characters and a compelling story. The icing on this theatrical cake is superb singing and terrific dancing.

    The Old Globe’s “Guys and Dolls” has it all. Many aficionados consider this the “perfect” musical. It’s based on the wonderfully colorful tales of beloved New York Prohibition Era short story writer Damon Runyan, with comical book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, and fabulous music and lyrics by Frank Loesser. The score includes timeless classics like “Bushel and a Peck,” “If I Were a Bell,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” which is, as always, a show-stopper. “Luck Be a Lady” is a winner, too.

    This production was mounted in association with the Asolo Repertory Theatre of Sarasota, Florida, where it debuted with a different cast this past winter.

    It’s a knockout – visually, vocally and terpsichorially. The look of a seedy, pre-Disney Times Square, formerly the city’s underbelly, is revealed in the first scene, with its fighters and flashers, cops and robbers, streetwalkers and sailors, and grifters galore.

    Then we meet the central gamblers and “no-goodniks” – the crap-game organizer, Nathan Detroit; the high-roller, Sky Masterson; and their romantic counterparts: Sky’s reluctant “Mission doll,” Sarah, and Nathan’s ever-sniffling, 14-year fiancée, Adelaide. This is the production’s one stellar, breakout performance: Veronica J. Kuehn, with her stratospherically squeaky voice and killer dance moves.

    All the dancing is phenomenal, thanks to Josh Rhodes’ direction and choreography – which is energetic, athletic, executed with supreme precision, and just plain fun. Lots of nice touches here, though the comic leads do tend to lean heavily on the dated laugh lines.

    Speaking of dated, the show, which premiered on Broadway in 1950, has some pretty antiquated views of women and marriage that might raise some hackles. Still, you can’t help but fall in love with these folks.

    While this isn’t a “Guys and Dolls” for the ages, it certainly is a lively and thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.

    “Guys and Dolls” runs through August 13 in the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park.

    Aired: 7/14/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer

  • “AT THE OLD PLACE” – La Jolla Playhouse

    “AT THE OLD PLACE” – La Jolla Playhouse

    Angie hasn’t been back to her Virginia family home in some time. She’s long been estranged from her mother and brother. Now that Mom is gone, the mid-career poetry professor has come back – to sort out her life, which has taken a few unfortunate turns.

    She’s surprised to find two 20-somethings hanging out on the front lawn. It’s a kind of refuge, or safe space, for them.

    During the course of 85 compelling minutes, Rachel Bonds’ world premiere, “At the Old Place,” fleshes out these three lost souls, all struggling to make a place for themselves, and possibly reconnect with “the road not taken.”

    The slowly unfolding play is Chekhovian in its slice-of-life realism, and like life, not every loose thread is neatly tied up at the end. But the characters and their plights are intriguing, and we’re gripped by their stories.

    At the La Jolla Playhouse, under the taut direction of associate artistic director Jaime Castañeda, the performances are outstanding, and thoroughly credible. The bookended coming-and-going feels a little forced, as does some of the dialogue for the fourth character, the less well-developed college teaching colleague.

    Heidi Armbruster perfectly captures Angie’s conflicted feelings and deep-seated angst, and Brenna Coates is terrific as the foul-mouthed, angry Jolene, a little trashy and always spoiling for a fight. Marcel Spears, as the gay, black former foster kid, Will, brings a sweetly sorrowful tone to the drama. Benim Foster is less bedraggled and less persuasive than we’d expect, as the hapless professor who’s just waiting for Angie to decide what she wants. If only she knew.

    The beautifully detailed house exterior is the centerpiece of the lovely set, which is nicely lit. The sound is crisp and the costumes are apt.

    Everyone here is adrift, searching for an anchor and a sense of belonging. They periodically reach out to each other, and find temporary solace – in booze, or poetry – but ultimately, like all of us, they each have to find and define family, home and direction for themselves.

    “At the Old Place” runs through July 31 at the La Jolla Playhouse, on the campus of UCSD.

    Aired: 7/13/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer

  • “THE MUSIC MAN” – Welk Resort Theatre

    “THE MUSIC MAN” – Welk Resort Theatre

    There are several essential ingredients for a successful production of “The Music Man”: powerful voices, strong dancers and rat-a-tat timing. Check, check and check. The Welk Resort Theatre has it all.

    Director/choreographer Ray Limon moves the show along at a sprightly clip, with especially well-timed, well-articulated work on the delectable syncopated, moving-train opener, “Rock Island,” and the fast-paced snake-oil sales of “Trouble.”

    David S. Humphrey, with his creamy baritone, makes for an attractive, seductive Harold Hill, the fast-talking flimflam man, a traveling salesman who goes around the country selling a bill of goods – in the form of a boys’ band. He always takes the money and runs.

    But this time is different. When he lands in River City, Iowa, the savvy town librarian, Marian Paroo, isn’t buying. Yet, when Hill’s con transforms the whole town, and he even opens up Marion’s taciturn young brother, she softens and falls. And Hill, for the first time in his life, falls too.

    The musical classic is awash in small-town, mid-century, Middle American nostalgia, complete with the requisite gossiping busybodies. And the oft-repeated “chip-on-the-shoulder stubbornness of Iowans.” The little burg needed some shaking up. And so did the reluctant lovers.

    The newly married Charlene (Koepf) Wilkinson brings her gorgeous voice and pitch-perfect standoffishness to the role of Marion. The singing, dancing and acting are strong throughout, but there’s no chemistry between the town Bad Boy and the Mayor’s daughter, though they both dance terrifically.

    Alex Allen is comical and agile as Marcellus, Hill’s former partner in crime, and Robin LaValley is amusing as the Mayor’s wife. The sound balance could be better. But the sets and costumes are just right.

    It’s a shame that the Welk has decided to discontinue live music, but if ever a show called for a big, brassy orchestral sound, it’s this one, so the taped music is less offensive than usual.

    Overall, it’s a delightful production of a show that, with its fun story and fabulous Meredith Willson score, never goes out of style.

    “THE MUSIC MAN” continues through July 30, at the Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido.

    Aired: 5/19/2017 9:01:00 AM

    Copyright © 2017 Pat Launer

For an archive of all of Pat's reviews, going back to 1990, use the 'search' function at

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