Theatre Review: ‘Guys and Dolls’ at Tantallon Community Players

The cast of 'Guys & Dolls' at the Tantallon Community Players in Fort Washington, MD. Photo by Jivon Jackson & Melanie Dashbach.

The Washington, D.C. area is blessed with a wealth of theatrical talent, and the Tantallon Community Players’ production of Guys and Dolls displays a significant amount of it in one small spot.

Almost everyone has seen a production of this beloved show.  At the end of his life, Sir Laurence Olivier said Guys and Dolls’ male lead Nathan Detroit was the only role left that he still wanted to play.  We know the Damon Runyonesque characters and many of the songs: “Bushel and a Peck,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “Adelaide’s Lament” (A Person Could Develop a Cold), and “Take Back Your Mink” have all found a place in popular culture.  Although the cultural attitudes would make any feminist’s hair stand on end, the show is a delight – if the production is fresh and the actors are on top of their job.  That’s not a problem in this production.

Sky Masterson (Zadoc-Lee Kekuewa) and Sarah Brown (Valerie Holt). Photo by Jivon Jackson & Melanie Dashbach.

All the leads are strong vocalists and excellent actors.  Zadoc-Lee Kekuewa brought nuances to Sky that are usually never seen.  They made him shine as a romantic lead and made the character’s transition from passionate, risk-loving gambler to passionate, risk-loving soul saver believable at the end.

Rich Amada was the quintessential Nathan Detroit: a pasty, Broadway night crawler with a good heart and a big stash of creative excuses.  Although his songs can be spoken rather than sung, he had the vocal goods and let them show.

Leslie Ann Kekuewa was an adorable Adelaide with the right kind of grounded center to make the character believable and a mischievous sense of fun while Valerie Holt was a thoroughly upright Sarah with a saving sense of humor and enough romance in her soul to make sparks fly through the theater.

Several of the minor roles stood out as well.  Stephen Yednock (Nicely-Nicely Johnson) is a marvelous comic actor with the kind of tenor voice to make “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” truly memorable.  Maureen Roult’s General Cartwright was great fun while Mario Font was a good dancer and his Harry the Horse was a comic gem that never broke form.  Nelson Spires added a lot to the male dance ensemble and Art Greene’s Arvide Abernathy had the audience in tears with his solo “More I Cannot Wish You.”

The show never flagged and no scene, even the most obvious, was overplayed: a real achievement considering the stylization of some of the characters and dialogue.

On the technical side, the show was performed in a concert hall rather than a theater, which meant wonderful acoustics but no wings or overhead space to make complex set changes possible.  Set Designer Marilyn Weaver did a good job with the constricted space and made the Broadway scenes, the underground crap game in Act II, the Havanapalm trees, and the Hot Box (especially the curtain) highlights.

Charla and Ron Rowe did very well with the costumes (with the exception of some very unflattering backs to the “Take Back Your Mink” one-pieces).  The clothes were in period whenever possible and they had a lot of fun with the Hot Box chorus girls.  The women’s mission costumes were also standouts, as were the gamblers and their memorable ties.  Shemika Berry found excellent showgirl wigs.

Adelaide (Leslie Ann Kekuewa) and Nathan Detroit (Rich Amada). Photo by Jivon Jackson and Melanie Dashbach.

There were intermittent problems with the sound levels throughout the play. And while the live orchestra did a nice job with the slower pieces, they found the fast numbers challenging and were often out of sync with the vocalists.  The choreography by Rikki Howie was necessarily restricted on the small stage, but the actors enjoyed it and let their enthusiasm make up for lack of space.

Director Hans Bachmann took advantage of all the small moments and created some delightful cameos.  Sarah’s Havana dance, the introduction of Fidel Castro to the Cuban scenes, the customer/machine gun joke, Nathan as American Gothic, and the long note in “Sue Me” come to mind, and there were several others.  The timing and pacing were excellent.  The show never flagged and no scene, even the most obvious, was overplayed: a real achievement considering the stylization of some of the characters and dialogue.

If you go see Guys and Dolls next weekend, you will have a great time, come away humming, and feel good for several days.  That’s pretty precious in these difficult times.

Guys & Dolls plays through June 10, 2012 through the Tantallon Community Players at the Harmony Hall Regional Center, 10701 Livingston Road in Fort Washington, MD. For tickets, call 301-203-6070, or purchase them online.