New wine in an old bottle

Guys and Dolls

Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser, Book by Abe Burrows & Jo Swerling
Directed and Designed by Phill Greenland
New York Youth Theater
Central Presbyterian Church
593 Park Ave., 6th fl. (888-0696)
Non-union production (closes May 23)
Review by David Mackler

New York Youth Theater has an admirable mission -- giving New York youth, both professional and non, a chance to perform. Last year they mounted a respectable production of Big River, a show whose lead characters are teenagers. But they made a miscalculation with their current presentation of Guys and Dolls, with the evident expectation that it be considered an off-off-Broadway production. Under the direction of Phill Greenland, it resembles nothing so much as what it in fact is - a classic musical performed by high-school students. Not your usual oobr fare, certainly.

But there was some notable talent on the small stage at NYYT's current home at the Central Presbyterian Church. Some of the kids were terrifically sure of themselves, poised, professional, well spoken -- but others, well, weren't. Some had good stage presence, but needed work on enunciation and projection. And some elements of the production were rendered bizarre -- if Nathan and Adelaide have been engaged for fourteen years, were they betrothed in day care?

Jimmy Sutherland as was a suave, confident Sky Masterson and sang well, especially in the duet "I've Never Been in Love Before" with Keeara Powell as Sarah Brown. Powell began the show more stiff than even Sgt. Brown would ever be, but she loosened up nicely when she drunkenly sang "If I Were a Bell." She has a lovely voice, and was most at ease when singing. Ray Santiago spoke very quickly and was unfortunately sometimes inarticulate as Nathan Detroit, but one could sense a presence which might be exploited were he better cast. The star of the production, though, based on singing and acting talent combined with terrific stage presence and yes, sheer professionalism, was Alexandra O'Daly as Adelaide. Brash yet shy, funny and forlorn as Adelaide sniffles her way through life -- while literally towering over her Nathan - O'Daly was a pleasure to behold. Every word was a gem, and clear as a bell.

She even managed to overcome the poorly designed sound - the taped music was far too loud for the space and the singers. Other production values were minimal yet adequate, but the direction was erratic. The small stage was sometimes well used, as in the Havana scenes (Anastasia Arten and Erich Bergen made a fine pair of Cuban dancers) and the "Luck Be A Lady" dance. But other times, with actors standing around unsurely, it simply looked crowded.

Alex Michaels and James LaRosa made a winning Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet, and their rendition of the title song was a treat. Is it possible to not have a rousing rendition of "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat"? Probably not, and here the song and the cast's performance made it past the music and were all the more enjoyable for it.

Have I been a hardheaded spoilsport in my criticisms? I hope not - many valuable things can be learned from productions like this one, both intended and un. But a more age-appropriate choice might be advisable for a general audience production. Are the rights to Runaways available?

Also featuring Nick Liotta, Matthew Martin, Julia Bienstock, Nicholas Miller, George C. Adams, Matthew Iwanusa, Jerry Poore, Jr., Jonathan Rami Mroz, Nicholas Miller, Nicoletta Bumbac, Sarah Gainer, Sarah Goldstein, Erin Iwanusa, Sara Lukasiewicz, Lilibeth Perez, Kelly Porter, Nancy Romano.

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 0
Acting: 1
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting: 1/Sound: 0

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Copyright 1999 David Mackler