Brandywiners Bring GUYS AND DOLLS to Life at Longwood Gardens

by Robert Beizer

Colorful gamblers are looking for action in a floating crap game in Brandywiners' GUYS AND DOLLS, playing at Longwood Gardens through August 7.

Damon Runyon’s story “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” is brought vividly to life in The Brandywiner’s production of the Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling, Abe Burrows’ classic Broadway musical GUYS AND DOLLS.

The story is ultimately about two couples Miss Adelaide (Nance Weber), a dancer at the Hot Box with Nathan Detroit (Joe Francisco), a notorious gambler and Sister Sarah Brown (Debra Arnold), an inner-city missionary, with Sky Masterson (Jeffrey A. Santoro) an even bigger gambler than Nathan.

Their relationships center on being either a Guy or a Doll. The Guys have worked for years to enjoy the Dolls without getting caught and hitched, and the Dolls are either lamenting a 14 year “engagement” (Adelaide with Nathan) or trying to fight nature (Sister Sarah with Sky); both of the Dolls wanting to get hitched.

Into this we mix all the Damon Runyon characters of his colorful underworld of New York. Here he parodies and plays with character types which, in a Noir piece, would be shadowy, but here are in Technicolor brilliance. Runyon gives us, Harry the Horse, Benny Southstreet, Angie the Ox, Nicely-Nicely Johnson and the unforgettable Big Jule. No “West Side Story” here.

The directors; Stage, Henry Porreca and Musical, Clint Williams use the stellar voices of the cast and multi-leveled playing space at Longwood Gardens to excellent effect. The dances by Choreographer Kelly R. Simmons are energetic and tight – particularly those with The Hot Box Dancers.

Unfortunately, it is difficult for me to make specific descriptions of individual performances because of the distance my seats were from the stage. And, not knowing the size of the Longwood Open Air Theater, I neglected to bring along opera glasses. However, the voices were excellent and most all of the leads demonstrated formal training from “some” to Opera level.

Two minor quibbles. When shows use microphones, which most all do today, whether in-door or out, their use should eliminate the need for performers to turn full front to sing. I much prefer the more naturalistic style which keeps the actors engaged within a scene. The second quibble is that I would like to have seen the intimate “More I Cannot Wish You” scene brought closer to the audience.

I whole-heartedly recommend GUYS AND DOLLS to you as you plan this weekend’s events. Along with the show you get full admission to Longwood Gardens so you can make a day of your adventure in Damon Runyon’s New York.

Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Directed by Henry Porreca
Musical Direction by Clint Williams
Choreography by Kelly R. Simmons
July 29 – August 7, 2010
The Brandywiners, Ltd.
Longwood Gardens Open Air Theatre
Kennett Square, PA

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