Review: 'The Sound of Music' National Tour

Genevieve Croft

Premiering on Broadway in 1959, The Sound of Music is based on the memoirs of Maria Augusta von Trapp. Originally starring Broadway’s Grand Dame, Mary Martin and Theodore Bikel, The Sound of Music has captivated audiences since its premiere. Whether you are a fan of the 1965 Julie Andrews/Christopher Plummer film, or you enjoy listening to “My Favorite Things,” (strangely associated with the Christmas season-that still puzzles me!), The Sound of Music will forever air on network television year after year delighting and entertaining the young and the young-at-heart. A prototypical Rodgers and Hammerstein II collaboration, The Sound of Music seems to be the show that will never fade away-from high school and community theatre productions to the dismal version of The Sound of Music Live! Featuring Carrie Underwood in 2013 on NBC….the catchy songs, a tender, romantic love story, and a story based on true events are still the perfect formula for a popular musical.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

The Sound of Music is set in Salzberg, Austria just before the start of World War II. The large ensemble cast includes a wealth of talent of all ages. The musical is a lengthy two and a half hours. However, the high energy and instantly recognizable songs allow the audience to pay no attention to the time, are quickly drawn into the story of young Maria Rainer, and the von Trapp family. Audiences are pulled into Maria’s world, where she is a rather unconventional Postulant at Nonnberg Abbey. In the story’s opening, Maria is on the nearby mountainside, regretting leaving the beautiful hills where she was brought up. After returning late, Maria (in a wonderful scene with the Mother Abbess) apologizes for her lateness, explaining she was raised on that mountain- and was singing without permission (something that is not allowed in the abbey). In response, the Mother Abbess tells Maria that she should spend some time outside the abbey to decide whether or not she is ready for the monastic life. She will act as the governess to the seven children of a widower, Austro-Hungarian Navy submarine Captain Georg von Trapp. Although two and a half hours seems long for a musical production, the time passes swiftly. The energy and enthusiasm of the cast in collaboration with the amazing visual elements make this production exactly what an experience at the theatre should be-spectacle, magic and an absence from reality.

Director Jack O’Brien brought together an ensemble cast which worked well together, and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together scenery, lighting and costumes that enhanced the story being told by these familiar characters. His overall vision and concept was very impressive.

Scenic Designer Douglas W. Schmidt successfully transformed the grand proscenium stage into multiple locations. In a story with so many locations, each one was designed and conveyed with precision for detail. I was impressed with Schmidt’s attention to detail in each location and especially the usage of some lovely three-dimensional projection style backdrops that really allowed the audience to see how vast and grand the mountains in Austria really are. I also very much enjoyed seeing some similar techniques in the walls of the abbey-in particular the Mother Abbess’ office. The backdrops made these stone walls seem very large, and open. It was most extraordinary to see some lovely windows created, and on the walls as well. It is apparent to me that a lot of time, care, and attention to detail were incorporated from both, the scenic and lighting designers. 

There were quite a bit of scenic changes to accommodate the multiple locations required within the story. I thought that these transitions were executed quite marvelously. The transitions were seamless. There was never a moment when I felt that I had been “cheated” by the lack of details or amount of detail in each location. From the double-level sets that would glide in an out with ease, to the delightful use of color and texture, the scenic designs, in itself could have easily been a phenomenon of excellent theatrical skill and exhibition. It was a very powerful moment with 6 large Nazi Flags were dropped from the ceiling, and used as the backdrop of the Festival Concert. There was nothing more symbolic than seeing proud Austrian, Georg von Trapp sing “Edelweiss” (Austria’s national flower- used as an image of symbolism and loyalty to his country) before he bids farewell to his homeland, and reports to Bremerhaven to assume command in the Army of the Third Reich. This moment gave me chills.

The home of Georg von Trapp was as grand on stage as it was it the film. I especially appreciated large curved staircase, and the large walls that would dress many locations that were reminiscent of large pieces of lace. I was fascinated with the very end of the production, with the von Trapp children (led by Maria and Georg) traveled up the mountain, as they escape the Nazi’s after the Anschluss. I really felt that they were taking a long, and arduous journey to reach safety. As the family ascended into the hills of the mountains, my breath was taken away. This attention to detail was one of those things that would not have been missed had it not been there but added an element of legitimacy to the set. Again, another moment which gave me goosebumps.

Photo: Matthew Murphy

Lighting was designed by Natasha Katz. Katz executed a fantastic job plotting lighting that was appropriate for each scene and mood. One element that was absolutely awe-inspiring was seeing silhouettes of the Mother Abbess and Maria in some very tender scenes between them. I often found myself watching only the silhouettes speak to each other because the images of the actors were so clean and defined. I felt that it was a very powerful use of visual imagery. Through the performance, Katz’ cuing to enhance each scene was spot on. I especially enjoyed how the lighting complimented the scenic design, giving the impression of the many different locations in Austria. The best “gem” from the lighting design, for me, was seeing many windows light up in the town of Salzberg toward the end of the production. Katz worked in cooperation with scenic designer, Schmidt, and was able to create a very unique and dynamic view of the town from inside the abbey walls. From the dimly lit halls of the abbey to the romantic lighting in the villa during “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” Katz really devoted a lot of time, effort and talent in the lighting of this production. 

Jane Greenwood designed costumes that were not only period appropriate but had a fine attention to detail. The von Trapp children each had a unique costume. From the traditional German dirndls and lederhosen to the humorous “curtain” play-clothes, each wore something that was significantly different from one another. I enjoyed seeing the women of the cast in some fabulous fashion from the late 1930’s. Everyone in the ensemble had extremely different costumes, and there was never a point in this production when I felt that costumes were similar to one another. Costume design was surely a huge undertaking in this production, with the massive number of characters in the story. Each ensemble player wore a unique costume (for each role) adding to their importance to the story. All this added authenticity to their roles. Costumes were visually appealing, while also giving an accurate depiction of their character’s personality and role in the story in the 1930’s Europe.

Kerstin Anderson was incredibly believable in the role of Maria Rainer. Through facial expression, and body language, Anderson convincingly portrayed the optimistic governess, with a niche for singing, and her positive relationship and familial bond with the von Trapp children. Her role was very loveable, and her enthusiasm and honesty on stage was nearly constant, having appropriate interaction with the von Trapp children, and lovely on stage relationships with Georg, Mother Abbess, and Liesl (played maturely by Paige Silvester). Anderson never faltered in her delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable and spot on. Ms. Anderson was wonderful in the role of Maria, and I believe, could certainly be held in the same category as others who have graced the stage in the role of Maria.

Captain Georg von Trapp was played by Ben Davis. Davis was very convincing through facial expressions and body language. In one specific scene, Davis and Anderson were engaged in a very tender moment, while expressing their feelings for each other (“Something Good”). They had a lovely relationship on stage, and this was evident in their rapport with each other during each scene. Even in earlier scenes, when Georg was very stern and disciplinary, Davis displayed some captivating moments with Ms. Anderson. I thought that the duality between Georg’s Naval Captain persona and his desire to be a more loving father was a nice contrast, and provided depth to his character.

Ashley Brown, in the role of the Mother Abbess was skillful in portraying the kind-hearted and maternal Mother Superior. Through facial expressions, and a dominant voice, Brown really brought down the house with “Climb E’vry Mountain” at the end of Act I. Her presence on stage was always strong, and she never faltered in her operatic and powerful vocal delivery.

Another standout was the ensemble of von Trapp children (Paige Silvester, Erich Schuett, Maria Knasel, Quinn Erickson, Svea Johnson, Mackenzie Currie, and Audrey Bennett). Each member of the von Trapp family was convincingly cute, and provided the appropriate touch of humor with their adventures on stage. Their voices were like a chorus of angels, and it is evident that they devoted a lot of time and effort into their performance. With their delivery and facial expressions, the children did an excellent job. As each one matures and expands their resumes, they will certainly become well-rounded actors and actresses…and what a way to gain experience! The Sound of Music is surely one of the greatest musicals of the modern Broadway era.

This production of The Sound of Music is definitely worth seeing. The attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. From the moment the overture begins, and the recognizable songs are previewed, you will be fascinated and compelled to sing-along. Not only is it an excellent history lesson for audiences of all ages, but also, it is an excellent way to introduce Maria’s story to first time theatergoers. Whether you have never seen the show before, or you are film devotee, The Sound of Music will leave you with a spectacular theatrical experience. This production of The Sound of Music is truly a masterpiece. The Music Hall at Fair Park is alive with the “sound of music.”

Review: 'ANNIE' National Tour at AT&T Performing Arts Center

Genevieve Croft 

Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Premiering on Broadway in 1977, Annie is based on Harold Gray’s comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, a little red headed orphan and her adventures with dog Sandy, and benefactor, Oliver Warbucks. Little Orphan Annie inspired a weekly radio serial in 1930, and a popular film version in 1982, starring Broadway legends Carol Burnett, Bernadette Peters, and Tim Curry. In 2014, a dismal, loosely based adaptation of Annie starring Jaime Foxx, and Cameron Diaz introduced new audiences to Annie, in a modern re-telling of the story. Annie has also been integrated into other areas of pop culture. In one episode of the witty sitcom, Frasier, Frasier Crane anxiously awaits his turn for a caricature portrait of himself. In his haste, he insists a young girl take her incomplete portrait and leave. She quips, “But I don’t have any eyes.” Frasier replies, “Neither did Little Orphan Annie, and she got her own Broadway show!” No matter what medium, audiences have been entertained by this optimistic orphan, and her quest to find her parents for over 90 years.

Annie is set in New York City in December 1933. The large ensemble cast includes a wealth of talent of all ages. The musical is a lengthy two and a half hours, however, the high energy and recognizable songs allow the audience to pay no attention to the time, and to quickly get drawn into Annie’s story. It was the quickest two and a half hours I have ever spent in a musical theatre production. Audiences are quickly swept into Annie’s quest to find her parents, and the symbolic locket she wears as her only connection to her missing parents. Set during Christmas, and on the cusp of F.D.R.’s New Deal, audiences are given an appropriate history lesson of The Great Depression, though the eyes of young optimist Annie.

Director Martin Charnin brought together an ensemble cast which worked well together, and collaborated with a crew who clearly took their jobs seriously and knit together scenery, lighting and sound that enhanced the story being told by these familiar characters. It was a great pleasure to see a production directed by Charnin, lyricist of the original musical team. What a privilege for audiences to see the original lyricist of the production, in the role of the director. If anyone had a director’s vision for this production of Annie, it would be Broadway legend, Martin Charnin. It is not very often that audiences are able to see the work of a lyricist and director in the same production. What a treat! 

Set Designer Beowulf Boritt successfully transformed the proscenium stage into multiple locations. In a story with so many locations, each one was designed and conveyed with precision for detail. I was impressed with Boritt’s attention to detail in each location and especially the usage of the color gray to convey the bleakness of life in the orphanage during the early part of The Great Depression. In contrast to the bleakness of the orphanage, each room displayed in Warbuck’s home was very colorful, grand, and gave the audience the air of luxury. The stage was transformed into several large rooms (living room, Warbucks’ business office, and entry foyer-complete with a grand marble staircase). This was achieved with very little set dressing/furniture, and the use of painted screens with painted windows, doors, and decorative pieces of art were able to transition from each location in the large mansion seamlessly, and quickly-never stopping the energy or action of the production. The design of Warbucks’ house was exactly what was needed for the action that would ensue there. The office was very detailed. I especially appreciated the stained glass window, and the painted autographed portraits of former presidents that adorned Warbuck’s office. The street scenes of New York were also very detailed. It was a nice effect to see the Brooklyn Bridge, and the buildings that form the New York City skyline in silhouette. This attention to detail was one of those things that would not have been missed had it not been there but added an element of legitimacy to the set.

Lighting was designed by Ken Billington. Billington did a fantastic job plotting lighting that was appropriate and never cast distracting shadows. Through the performance, his cuing to enhance each scene was spot on. I especially enjoyed how the lighting complimented the scenic design, giving the impression of different times of day (sunrise and dusk) over the Brooklyn Bridge, and through the windows of the Warbucks’ home. One element of surprise was the illusion of snow falling through the windows on the evening of Christmas Eve in the moonlight. It was a fantastic effect, and really brought the lighting and the scenic designs together, creating a lovely effect in the background.

Assisting the lighting and set, Sound Designer Peter Hylenski carried through with his own detailing, and I especially appreciated the use of appropriate live sound effects in the NBC radio studio, during the Hour of Smiles radio program with Bert Healy. I also really felt a part of the radio audience when we were asked to applaud at appropriate moments and when prompted by the applause sign. It was a nice touch that added depth to my experience of the production.

Suzy Benzinger designed costumes that were not only period appropriate but had a fine attention to detail. The orphan girls each had a unique, drab costume, while Miss Hannigan appropriately dressed better than her little girls. I enjoyed seeing the women of the cast in extraordinary 1930’s hats- a fashion trend that I wish would make a recurrence today. Everyone in the ensemble had extremely different costumes, and there was never a point in this production when I felt that costumes were similar to one another. Each ensemble player wore a unique costume (for each role) adding to their importance to the story. All this added authenticity to their roles. Costumes were visually appealing, while also giving an accurate depiction of their character’s personality, and life in 1933.

Issie Swickle was incredibly believable in the role of Annie. Through facial expression, and body language, Swickle convincingly portrayed the optimistic eleven year old seeking to find her parents, and to provide a little hope to those around her. Her role was very loveable, and her enthusiasm and honesty on stage was nearly constant, having appropriate interaction with her young ensemble members, and lovely on stage relationships with Miss Hannigan, Mr. Warbucks, and Grace Farrell. Swickle never faltered in her delivery, and all interactions with other cast members were believable and spot on.

Oliver Warbucks was played by Gilgamesh Taggett. Taggett was very convincing through facial expressions and body language. In one specific scene, Taggett and Swickle were engaged in a very tender moment, while waltzing in his office-demonstrating his true affection for Annie. In this production, Warbucks was very soft, and likeable. A difference that I very much enjoyed in comparison to the movie role, portrayed by Albert Finney, who was very stern, and somewhat less loveable. I thought that the duality between Warbuck’s businessman persona and his desire to become Annie’s father was a nice contrast, and provided depth to his character.

Lynn Andrews, in the role of Miss Hannigan was skillful in portraying the mean-spirited matron of the orphanage. Through facial expressions, and a larger than life personality, Andrews’s performance was appropriate to the role. Andrews provided humor to her musical numbers (“Little Girls” and “Easy Street”) with her movement, and apparent dedication to the character. “Little Girls” was by far my favorite adult number in this production of Annie. 

Another standout was Lilly Mae Stewart, in the role of youngest orphan, Molly. With her delivery and facial expression, Stewart was convincingly cute and provided an appropriate touch of humor through her presence on stage. Stewart did an excellent job in her portrayal of Molly. As Miss Stewart matures and expands her resume, she will certainly become a well-rounded actress.

This production of Annie is definitely worth seeing. The attention to detail evident in all aspects of this production makes for a satisfying experience. From the moment the overture begins, and the recognizable songs are previewed, you will be enthralled. Not only is it an excellent history lesson for audiences of all ages, but also, it is an excellent way to introduce Annie’s story to first time theatergoers. Whether you are the young, or the young-at-heart, Annie will tug at your heart, and leave you with an excellent theatrical experience. Hurry, you have a short time to see Annie at the Winspear Opera House. Take a break from the “Hard Knock Life,” and see these “Little Girls!”


ANNIE
AT&T Performing Arts Center, Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora Street, Dallas, Texas 75201
Plays through July 5.

June 24, 25, 26, 27, 30 at 8:00 pm/ June 27, 28 at 2:00 pm/ June 28 at 7:30 pm
July 1, 2, 3 at 8:00 pm / July 4 at 1:30 pm and 6:30 pm/ July 5 at 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm

Ticket prices range from $30.00-$120.00, depending on day and seating. For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.attpac.org call the box office at 214-880-0202 or go to the AT&T Performing Arts Center Information Center at 2353 Flora Street (Mon. 10 am-6 pm, Tues.-Sat. 10 am-9 pm, and Sun. 10 am-6:00 pm). 

**Please Note- Buyer’s are reminded that the AT&T’s Performing Arts Center Information Box Office is the only official retail ticket outlet for all performances at the Winspear Opera House. Ticket buyers who purchase tickets from a ticket broker or any third party should be aware that the Winspear Opera House is unable to reprint or replace lost or stolen tickets and is unable to contact patrons with information regarding time changes or other pertinent updates regarding the performance.


'Lerner & Loewe's Camelot' National Tour at the Bushnell

Nancy Sasso Janis

The 2014/2015 Throne Games LLC/Phoenix Entertainment National Tour of Lerner & Loewe’s 'Camelot' is billed as "reimagining"   the classic tale of King Arthur, Guenevere and Lancelot. As Tuesday's opening night at the Bushnell in Hartford was the first time I have ever seen this musical on stage, I won't try to guess what exactly has been reimagined, but it did seem to be a fresh look at this ultimate period piece by the authors of 'Brigadoon,' 'My Fair Lady,' and 'Gigi.' 

'Camelot' features a book and lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe and is based on the King Arthur legend adapted from the T.H. White novel The Once and Future King. Short version: Merlin teaches King Arthur, who marries the beautiful Guenevere. Arthur rules the mythical kingdom of Camelot with new ideals bringing peace to the land. The dashing (and sometimes annoying) Sir Lancelot joins the Knights of the Round Table and becomes part of a royal love triangle. Then there is the nasty Mordred, the king's illegitimate son (played gleefully by Jon McHatton) who does his best to bring down the kingdom. It is all very dramatic (the complete opposite of 'Spamalot) and doesn't end well. 

Members of the touring company Photo from the tour’s website

Members of the touring company Photo from the tour’s website

I expected it to be the "sweeping tale of passion, pageantry and betrayal" that won four Tony Awards and ran for over 800 performances back in 1960, and it was. All the classic songs were there, including “If Ever I Would Leave You,” “The Simple Joys of Maidenhood,” "How to Handle a Woman," "The Lusty Month of May" and the title song, “Camelot.” 

However, the scenic design by Kevin Depinet included a decidedly modern metal tree and the musical arrangements had some modern touches. Magnificent period costumes and the set and gleaming swords lit to perfection by Mike Baldassari made it all look beautiful. A small group of musicians made it sound quite beautiful as well; special mention to Jeffrey Snider on percussion. The interior of the castle was especially effective and the staging of the jousts scene by director Michael McFadden did not disappoint. 

The cast all turned in strong performances and had glorious voices for singing this rich musical score. On opening night, the role of King Arthur was played by Adam Grabau's understudy Troy Bruchwalski, and except for a couple line issues, he performed admirably. Mark Poppleton played well the magical Merlyn (in an owl inspired robe) and King Pellinore. Tim Rogan was a fine Lancelot and Mr. Devlin was the perfect villain in classic black as Mordred. Local connection: Brandon Cordeiro, who was a very strong comic force as Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, the head Knight of Ni and Tim the Enchanter in TriArts Sharon Playhouse presentation of 'Spamalot' (really) played Squire Dap here. 

As Guenevere, Kate Turner had a lovely soprano voice and definitely wore the best gowns, although the gowns worn by the female members of the talented ensemble were gorgeous. Kudos to local young actor Ian Rothauser of Newingtown who came onstage for the final scene as Tom of Warwick. 

'Camelot ' runs April 21-26, 2015 at The Bushnell’s Mortensen Hall as part of the 2014-2015 Bushnell Broadway Series

New Non-Equity GUYS AND DOLLS Tour Charms OC

Michael L. Quintos

Even at 60 years old, GUYS AND DOLLS—the oh-so-delightful classic musical comedy featuring memorable music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a cleverly cheeky book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows—still remains as one of American theater's greatest and most timeless treasures. It's no wonder that the Tony Award-winning Best Musical of 1950 has since been revived and remounted all across the world a gazillion times over and continues to be a favorite go-to for many regional and academic theaters. It even boasts a popular 1955 cinematic adaptation featuring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando.

It's certainly not hard to love this show. Based on Damon Runyon's colorful short stories of various gangsters, gamblers, and an assortment of other underworld ne'er-do-wells in 1920s/1930s New York City, this "musical fable of Broadway" is an entertaining mash-up of madcap storytelling, perfectly-concocted showtunes, and (when done right) dazzling visuals that transport you to an amusingly exaggerated world where, ideally, hard-charging guys become lulled softies around their lovely dolls. 

Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Dru Serkes, Todd Berkich and Mike McLean in the national tour of GUYS AND DOLLS - Photo by Patrick R. Murphy - PRM Digital Productions

Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Dru Serkes, Todd Berkich and Mike McLean in the national tour of GUYS AND DOLLS - Photo by Patrick R. Murphy - PRM Digital Productions

So it's not really that much of a surprise that even this brand new, non-equity national tour—currently onstage at Orange County's Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa for a limited week-long run through April 19—is a winning, nicely-nicely done charmer. Of course, it helps a lot that this traveling production comes equipped with Broadway-caliber sets and costumes and, most satisfying of all, a really talented, engaging ensemble cast.

That very cast helps the audience immerse itself in the classic, highly-amusing narrative that tracks the intertwined activities of cheap-skate gambler Nathan Detroit (the funny Christopher Swan) and confident high-stakes gambler Sky Masterson (the dashing Matthew J. Taylor). Desperate to secure Joey Biltmore's garage as the new secret location for his "oldest established permanent floating crap game," the money-deprived Nathan concocts what he thinks is a sure-fire bet with Sky for a $1,000—the exact amount Joey demands for use of his garage. 

The bet? That Sky must succeed in romancing a "random" girl into agreeing to dinner with him in, uh, Havana, Cuba. Not one to turn away from a challenge, Sky agrees to seduce Nathan's pick: Sarah Brown (the lovely-voiced Kayleen Seidl), a bible-thumping leader in the local "Save-A-Soul" Mission, a group of well-intentioned do-gooders whose aim is to clean up the depravity of Broadway (ha!) by helping reform sinners into "following the fold."

For her part, Sarah is quite initially impressed by Sky, both with his biblical knowledge and his apparent desire to reform. Sensing that he's intrigued her enough, Sky offers Sarah an interesting bargain: if she agrees to go to Havana with him the following night, Sky will, in return, bring a dozen "sinners" to the mission for reformation. She turns him down at first (even slapping the guy when he surprises her with a kiss), but later reluctantly agrees to the deal the next day after learning from General Cartwright (Jesse Graham) that the mission branch may be forced to close down if they are unable to secure enough sinners to come to a revival meeting.

Meanwhile, across town at the Hot Box nightclub, headliner Adelaide (a perfectly-cast Lauren Weinberg) laments once again at the prospect of remaining single and unwed, despite a 14-years-and-counting engagement to Nathan. Not only is she upset that Nathan seems to be waffling at the idea, she's also livid that Nathan continues to run illegal crap games. Apparently, the stress has turned her into a hypochondriac, too.

As the wicked denizens of New York City salivate with anticipation for Nathan's promised crap game, police lieutenant Brannigan (Michael C. Thatcher) scours the streets, always on the lookout for suspicious activity, particularly from Nathan and his cronies Nicely Nicely Johnson (scene-stealing Todd Berkich), Benny Southstreet (Mike McLean), and Rusty Charlie (Dru Serkes). Nathan better get something together quick, because according to local thug Harry the Horse (Cliff Blake), notorious gangster/gambler Big Jule (John Galas) is in town looking for some action.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Matthew J. Taylor as Sky Masterson and Kayleen Seidl as Sarah Brown in the national tour of GUYS AND DOLLS - Photo by Gary Emord-Netzley

Segerstrom Center for the Arts - Matthew J. Taylor as Sky Masterson and Kayleen Seidl as Sarah Brown in the national tour of GUYS AND DOLLS - Photo by Gary Emord-Netzley

Down in Havana, Sarah inadvertently becomes drunk on multiple dulce de leches and becomes enamored with Sky. Sky is surprised that he's now genuinely falling for Sarah himself, so he agrees to fly her back to New York for her safety. Hours later,  as the sun rises above the Save-A-Soul Mission building, the now sober Sarah is still smitten—and so is Sky. But is this romance too good to be true? Well, it doesn't help that an alarm suddenly rings out to break the romantic scene, with Nathan and a bunch of zoot-suited criminals running out of the Mission building in a panic. That's right... Nathan used the Mission as an impromptu location for his crap game. Oh, crap.

Temporarily setting aside the on-going debate of seeing an equity vs. non-equity show for a moment to focus on the merits of the production itself, this bus-and-truck GUYS AND DOLLS—produced by Big League Productions, Inc. and directed by Jeffrey B. Moss—is, in the grand scheme of things, an admirably engaging, very pleasing presentation... certainly a surprisingly plush, briskly-staged iteration that rivals even the most expensive, well-funded regional productions. Perhaps inspired partially by the exceptional Tony-winning 1992 Broadway revival, this new tour really made me smile.

Randel Wright's scenic designs are appropriately stylized Runyon-esque marvels that pop with the color palette of a Dick Tracy cartoon, while the costumes designed by Michael Bottari and Ronald Case evoke amplified versions of the frocks worn in Runyon's world. The limber cast executes Bob Richard's electric choreography quite well (particularly in the Havana scenes), adding to all the fun (One thing that puzzled me from a thematic design standpoint, though, is the title signage emblazoned with arrows in the scrim that was on display before the show started and during intermission).

As for the show's cast, it is certainly populated with some genuinely winning performances—which is a testament to the pleasant hopefulness that comes with seeing (and hearing) fresh talent, as well as a welcome surprise sigh of relief since, welllll... this is a non-equity tour after all. 

Swan easily amuses as Nathan Detroit, who spars well with both his more "debonair" counter-part Sky Masterson, played by smolderific Taylor, and his sneezy paramour Adelaide, played by the show's most enchanting and most hilarious cast member, Weinberg. Her Betty Boop-tinged voice really fits her deliciously quirky character and her "Adelaide's Lament" is just a fabulous rendition. Even her walk and non-verbal facial expressions had me grinning.

Seidl's superb soprano is just lovely and she even displays a bit of sassy-ness. Galas and Graham offer up droll surprises as Big Jule and General Cartwright, respectively. Meanwhile, Berkich is a scene-stealing hoot as Nicely Nicely Johnson (flanked by silly sidekicks McLean and Serkes). His lead vocal on "Sit Down, You're Rockin' The Boat" is a rip-roaring highlight.

And speaking of "Sit Down..." it appears that of all the songs in GUYS AND DOLLS, this crowd-pleasing fave seems to incite the most tinkering in every iteration I've seen/heard of the show (some are great, some not so much). For this new tour, what seems to start out as the it-ain't-broke classic version—staged wonderfully in the 1992 Broadway revival—suddenly takes an odd turn to incorporate the more gospel-flavored version that was attempted in the recent 2009 Broadway revival. While that recent revival's gospel reboot certainly had its great qualities (mainly because the super awesome Tituss Burgess took it to church in the most rousing possible way), the tacked-on gospel-ized ending in this new tour feels a bit like a contrived afterthought at the end and that the extra augmentation is perhaps unnecessary here.

Still, when all is seen, heard, and done, this playful, well-intentioned, excitingly-staged version of the proven classic delivers the jackpot with an extra helping of charm. GUYS AND DOLLS is a pretty safe bet, so go for it.


Review originally published on BroadwayWorld. Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Photos from the National Tour of GUYS AND DOLLS by Gary Emord-Netzley, courtesy of SCFTA.

Performances of Big League Productions' GUYS AND DOLLS at Segerstrom Center for the Arts continue through Sunday, April 19, 2015. Tickets can be purchased online at www.SCFTA.org, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa.

For tickets or more information, visit SCFTA.org.

Review ~ "Beauty & the Beast" National Tour

Lisa Bailey / OnStage Critic Playing Belle in Beauty and the Beast has always been a dream of mine. She’s a smart woman who doesn’t back down and she does it all with such grace. I remember going to see the movie when I was a youngster and have been in love with it ever since. I never saw the musical on Broadway but did see the national tour about 10 years ago. When it was announced that the national tour was making its way to Toledo this year, I knew I had to check it out again.

The musical follows the same premise as the Disney movie. A young prince is turned into a beast because he shows no love in his heart. If he cannot love someone and receive their love in return by the time the last petal on a rose falls, he will remain the beast forever. Belle is a young woman living a small town who dreams of adventure. She ends up as a prisoner in the Beast’s castle and the story goes on from there

I had such high hopes for this production because I do love it so. However, I was disappointed and that started from the beginning when the old beggar woman turns into the enchantress. She looked like one of those inflatable flailing tube men. The sets were pretty lackluster – mainly the library scene where it was just a small backdrop with painted books. The battle scene was nonexistent but that’s because it’s a small cast and there weren’t enough cast members to portray both the townspeople and the castle objects. Some songs were cut but I wasn’t concerned about that. It wasn’t any of the songs from the movie so I don’t think the average Joe would notice the cuts. I didn’t want to nitpick at things because this is one of my favorite musicals but I definitely saw where they cut some corners.

I was impressed with the cast. Jillian Butterfield (Belle) lead the cast with grace, passion and a lovely voice. Patrick Pevehouse (Lumiere) had great comedic timing and led the show stopper “Be Our Guest” with great flair. Cameron Bond (Gaston) was my favorite actor. His arrogance was perfect and had great chemistry with Jake Bridges (Lefou). Ryan Everett Wood (Beast) had great vocals for the Beast’s solo, “If I Can’t Love Her”. My one issue with his portrayal as Beast was that he was too goofy. I didn’t like his transition throughout the show.

Overall, did I like this production? I’d lean more towards yes with that slight disappointment. The talent was there and the story is still one of my favorites. I just have to remind myself that it was scaled down. Would I recommend this show? Yes, because it’s still a great story full of great music. The cast does a wonderful job with what they are given. What more can you ask for? I’m just being picky because I’ve seen the musical before and know how great it can be.

Check out http://www.beautyandthebeastontour.com for tour dates and try the grey stuff, it’s delicious!