Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Music Theatre taps vitality of ‘Guys and Dolls’

Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Review: Music Theatre taps vitality of ‘Guys and Dolls’

Color abounds in the characters and songs.

PHOTO: From left, Parker Drew, Sallie Harrigan, Cassidy Heim-Dittmer and Chad Lemerande are featured in the Music Theatre of St. Norbert College production of “Guys and Dolls.” Music Theatre photo

DE PERE, Wis. (WFRV) – A strong cast in multiple big roles lights up “Guys and Dolls” as presented by Music Theatre of St. Norbert College. The strong production (4½ stars out of 5) continues through Aug. 1 in Walter Theatre on campus. Info: tickets.snc.edu.

Time flips to 60 or 70 or 80-something years ago on the bustling streets of New York City – a merrily sinful city for the sake of this show. The music of Frank Loesser is tuneful, and the takes on characters of Damon Runyon are clever, thanks in part to added boosts from laff-meister Abe Burrows.

***

Creative: From stories and characters of Damon Runyon: Music and lyrics – Frank Loesser; book – Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows; director – James P. Birder; producer/musical director – Dudley Birder; scenic design – Corey Allan Pinchart; light design – Jack Rhymer; choreographer – Alicia Birder; sound design – Chris Gabryszek; costume design – Tricia Adams; hair/make-up design – Lois Gegare; stage manager – Monique Dalley; property master – Jeffrey Paul Entwistle; technical director – Corey Allan Pinchart.

Cast: Sky Masterson – Chad Lemerande; Sarah Brown – Cassidy Heim-Dittmer, Sarah Brown; Nathan Detroit – Parker Drew; Miss Adelaide – Sally Harrigan; Nicely-Nicely Johnson – Darren Johnson; Big Jule – Mark A. Jackson; Benny Southstreet – Michael Bauer; Rusty Charlie – James Marker; Harry The Horse – Sean Gibbons; Arvide Abernathy – Charles Hagen; Lt. Brannigan – Warren Elliott; Martha – Kasara Sinkula; Agatha – Heidi A. Schmitz; Clara – Melissa Terrell; Edna – Haley Marks; Angie the Ox – Mitch Jossart; Drunk – Ian Wisneski; Joey Biltmore – Warren Elliott; Hot Box Emcee – Sergio L. Heredia; General Matilda B. Cartwright – April Rose Strom-Johnson; Hot Box Waitresses – Kasara Sinkula, Melissa Terrell; Guys – Mitch Jossart, Sergio L. Heredia, Everett John Berchmans, AJ Gannon, Sam Van Beek, Michael Jacobs, Nicolas Desotell, Ian Wisneski, Sean Gibbons, Ethan Larsen, Devon Caelwaerts, James Marker; Dolls – Katie Bauer, Micki Berkshire, Mallory Fuhrman, Jessie Heesacker; Hot Box Dancers – Ana Lissa Bakken, Hannah K. Blecha, Maddie Budner, Ava Masias, Rebecca Schaberg, Michelle Oren; Havana Dancers Cubanos – Ana Lissa Bakken, Nicolas Desotell, Michael Jacobs, Ava Masias; Corps – Hanna K. Blecha, Maddie Budner, Michelle Oren, Rebecca Schaberg.

***

Musical numbers

Act I

Overture/“Runyonland” – Orchestra

“Fugue for Tinhorns” – Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet, Rusty Charlie

“Follow the Fold” – Sarah Brown, Arvide Abernathy, Mission Band

“The Oldest Established” – Nathan Detroit, Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet, Craps Shooters

“I’ll Know” – Sarah Brown, Sky Masterson

“A Bushel and a Peck” – Miss Adelaide, Hot Box Dolls

Adelaide’s Lament” – Miss Adelaide

“Guys and Dolls” – Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet

Havana, Cuba” – Orchestra

“If I Were a Bell” – Sarah Brown

“My Time of Day” – Sky Masterson

“I’ve Never Been in Love Before” – Sky Masterson, Sarah Brown

Act II

“Take Back Your Mink” – Miss Adelaide, Hot Box Girls

Adelaide’s Second Lament” – Miss Adelaide

“More I Cannot Wish You” – Arvide Abernathy

“Crapshooter’s Ballet” – Orchestra

“Luck Be a Lady” – Sky Masterson, Craps Shooters

“Sue Me” – Miss Adelaide, Nathan Detroit

“Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” – Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Ensemble

“Marry the Man Today” – Miss Adelaide, Sarah Brown

“Guys and Dolls” (Reprise) – Ensemble

***

The show has lasting spunk.

Juicy roles and songs abound – which is right in the wheelhouse of director James P. Birder and musical director Dudley Birder.

Two romantic stories run side by side. The main one is which ever happens to be up on the stage at the time:

- Oil and water: A high-rolling gambler, Sky Masterson (Chad Lemerande), makes a play for a Salvation Army preacher, Sarah Brown (Cassidy Heim-Dittmer), for the sake of a bet. Pure romance fills their songs together (“I’ll Know,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before”) and separately (Sarah’s “If I Were a Bell” and Sky’s “My Time of Day”).

- Comic capers: A wheeler-dealer gambler, Nathan Detroit (Parker Drew), is perpetually engaged to nightclub star Miss Adelaide (Sallie Harrigan). These are two of the greatest leading character roles in musical theater, and Drew and Harrigan play them to the hilt. Nathan is in constant trouble, stepping one step ahead of the law and one half-step ahead of Miss Adelaide’s desire to get married. Harrigan mines the comic riches of “Adelaide’s Lament,” and together Drew and Harrigan make “Sue Me” comic/sentimental fun.

The story opens with sizzle, following scampering on New York streets to set the tone. Featured gamblers Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Darren Johnson), Benny Southstreet (Michael Bauer) and Rusty Charlie (James Marker) sing/enact the tightly wound “Fugue for Tinhorns.”

The production has lots of life all around – the flash of the Hot Box dancers, the spiritual charge of the Save-A-Soul Mission and the fired-up song “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” the roughhouse comedy of the Gambler crew and comically threatening Big Jule (Mark A. Jackson), the spice of flying off to Cuba (in a day when it was possible for Americans to do that), the turn of the strait-laced Sarah to naively getting tipsy and the verve of the title tune delivered by Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet, among other touches.

Interest-catching moments include a physical flash to “thank you” when spoken by Darren Johnson as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, ringing notes of Cassidy Heim-Dittmer as Sarah Brown and the consummate attention to comic detail (over and over) by Parker Drew as Nathan Detroit.

Among community theaters in the region, Music Theatre has a definition of its own – “community,” yes, but with jolts of professionalism in the production corps and casts. Experience? Chad Lemerande has performed abundant leading roles, and it shows in his Sky Masterson. James P. Birder burrows into characters as director, and that shows in his shows. Dudley Birder has been the heart and soul of all 92 productions (92!) and continues in the thick of the action in each performance directing in the orchestra pit. The name Music Theatre brings a certain expectation, and it’s delivered in “Guys and Dolls.”

VENUE: The 725-seat Byron L. Walter Theatre features a proscenium stage (flat front). Its walls are textured concrete blocks laid in a wave pattern. The ceiling includes white acoustical clouds. Seat material and carpeting are the traditional theater red. The theater is located in Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It is the larger of two theaters in the building, the core of which was built in 1955. In 1989, the Walter Theatre was renovated to improve the lobby and interior aesthetic, adding seating and improving the acoustics.

THE PERSON: Byron L. Walter (1877-1954) was a businessman. He operated Green Bay Hardware, Inc. until his retirement in 1953. Walter was co-founder of Paper Converting Machine Co. and for a time served as president. After his death, the Byron L. Walter Family Trust was established, and it made possible the theater. The trust continues to make widespread contributions to community projects and institutions.

You may email me at warren.gerds@wearegreenbay.com. Watch for my on-air features on WFRV between 6 and 8 a.m. Sundays. There will be an on-air review of “Guys and Dolls” this Sunday, July 27.

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