Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Bushel and a Peck

Not being football fans, David and I spent a glorious rainy Sunday afternoon at the THEA-tuh today, seeing the musical Guys and Dolls. It was the second production for a new San Diego theater company, San Diego Musical Theater (a bit redundant, that) and I swear most of it was Broadway quality (and I know my Broadway!)

I have been a big fan of the movie since my teens, but this was my first time seeing the stage show. My sisters and I watched the movie so many times, we know every flourish of the music and odd "you could have used a contraction here" line of the book. In the 1955 film, starring Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons (not Gene, silly) and Marlon Brando (sigh) you get a double fantasy: a tale of New York City tough-guy gamblers in which not a single epithet is uttered, and a pre-Satcheen Littlefeather-era Brando who is so fine, every tip of his fedora inflicts physical pain. Naysayers claim that the part of Sky Masterson should have gone to Sinatra (aka someone who could sing) but I love Brando's gruff, talky delivery. It's sexy. So there.

Nevertheless, it was a thrill to see Robert Townsend lend his big plum-pudding voice to the part of Sky. During the second-act show stopper "Luck Be a Lady," my face hurt from smiling. Townsend's voice was gorgeous, but he was also gloriously supported by the rest of the male cast, backing him up in song but also doing acrobatics the likes of which I haven't seen since Neil of So You Think You Can Dance. Between this number and Jason Maddy as Nicely-Nicely Johnson projecting "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" right through the roof, I was giddy and weak for most of the second half.

The first half was a bit slower, I think because there were a few scenes with just two characters talking on an awfully big stage in a cavernous theater (it seats more than a thousand.) But Terra Macleod was a stand-out in "Adelaide's Lament" and such a big presence (she literally towered over Jamie Torcellini as Nathan) that I ended up liking her better than movie-Adelaide, good as she was. I think it's because Macleod is a gorgeous belter, whereas Vivian Blaine stuck to the Betty Boop-style delivery that defined her character. Macleod's Adelaide is tougher--I believed she could take care of herself, despite her claims to the contrary. I also loved the title number as performed by Eric Vest (Benny Southstreet) and Maddy, even though they were alone for what in the movie was a "cast of thousands" tableau. Any time the two of them appeared, they jacked the energy up a notch or two.

Strangely (because I did get excited about a Sky Masterson who can truly sing) I found myself missing Jean Simmons with Amy Biedel's portrayal of Sgt. Sarah Brown. Don't get me wrong, she and Townsend had great chemistry, and I wouldn't fault her acting. My objection is absurdly picky--Biedel is clearly classically-trained, and I found her operatic vibrato distracting. I'm guessing that Simmons was an actor who happened to sing in the movie version (like Brando) and I appreciated the husky, lusty quality she brought to "If I Were a Bell." When Biedel sang it, I had trouble believing her Sarah had that saucy side to her piousness.

The theater addition of the closing song "Marry the Man Today (And Change His Ways Tomorrow)" helped to explain the double wedding in the last scene. In the movie, Sarah and Adelaide didn't know each other, so the double wedding didn't make much sense. Not that I need my musicals to make sense. I'm perfectly happy to sit back and bask in the deliciousness of two strangers kissing only because they've just shared a duet called "I'll Know When My Love Comes Along." In the concession line during intermission, I overheard a pre-teen asking her mother "How DO you know when your love comes along? How do you know it's really love?"

"Well," her mother said thoughtfully. "I guess if you can spend time doing the normal, boring parts of life together and still stand each other, then you know it's love."

Awwww. Where's the fun in that?


Type (little) a aka Michele said...

Glad you had a good time. :-) I do miss the theater myself. The last "play" I saw was Sesame Street Live! Scoff if you must, but it WAS Elmo's Coloring Book. Fine stuff, unlike that Super Grover Bullshit.

Whenever someone mentions Guys and Dolls I think of George Costanza saying, "It's Guys and Dolls, not Guys and Guys" :-)

Mary said...


You have made me want to run out and rent the movie!

Glad you had fun!


p.s. See you Wednesday!

Cheri @ Blog This Mom!® said...

I so need to watch the movie again, it's been a while. Great review.

Anonymous said...

So, I just 'googled' myself and came across your review. I love what you have to say, and I'm especially grateful that you would choose an afternoon of theatre. Isn't Robert's voice amazing? He is on tour with Mamma Mia now, and I miss him tremendously; it was hard not falling in love with Sky the minute he started singing.
I was so afraid to sing this role, so I'm pleased that you thought I sounded trained! Of course, I am no Jean Simmons-that woman is amazing. I especially loved how believable she is as a NYC gal with a heart. I admit the key of the song was the biggest challenge; I think it should be lowered-our musical director can attest to me begging for that (I can be such a baby!). Terra and Jamie were amazing! I miss them, as well.
Thanks for taking the time to write about theatre and film! It's been a treat remembering that whole experience.