Columbian crew offers fine production of ‘Guys and Dolls’

Ben Nyberg

By A Contributor

Frank Loesser’s 1950 “musical fable of Broadway,” Guys and Dolls, opened a two-week run at Wamego’s Columbian Theatre this past Friday evening. Final shows coming up May 18 and 19.

Given that the story was born out of short fiction by the Little Apple’s own Damon Runyon, Manhattanites who undertake the journey east can feel they’re carrying a measure of proprietary pride along with them.

But that’s not the main reason to go see this production. First off, this is one of those classy, classic “golden age” musicals, packed full of terrific songs—”I’ve Never Been in Love Before,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” “If I Were a Bell,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “Take Back Your Mink,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” among many (and I do mean many) others.

Equally to the point, the artists who deliver those songs (and duets, trios, and choruses), every guy and doll of them, have the voice and presentational style to give us both the sound and the sense of their lyrics.

Top marks go to Artistic/Music/Technical Director/Scene Designer Drew Horton who managed somehow amid his other duties to fit in the role of Nicely-Nicely Johnson, which he sang and acted to perfection. But Christine Horton’s beautifully voiced, mostly prim and proper (except when tipsy) Sergeant Sarah Brown runs him a close second. And Jeff Zerr convinces us that Sky Masterson truly can convert from swifty to saint.

It’s hard to imagine the grumpy, devious, delightfully sarcastic Nathan Detroit portrayed any more engagingly (is he really?) than by Troy Hemphill. Krysten Day’s take on Detroit’s long-suffering girlfriend Miss Adelaide is utterly beguiling. And Arvide’s single song, “More I Cannot Wish You,” made me wish for more from Rich Shermoen.

Add that the on-stage crew is supported by a lively lively (excuse the Runyonese) eleven-member strong pit band which, despite its lack of strings and a smattering of off-target notes, really did punch up the energy level of the score. Add also that the subtle intricacies of stage movement (including choreography, of course) have all been meticulously designed and carefully rehearsed.

Add that within the somewhat restrictive limits of the Columbian stage, the sets and costumes do a more than serviceable job of conveying the ambience of the period location of the action, and the culminating result is a charming patch of stage magic, one well worth your making the effort and finding the time to attend.

All of which isn’t to say nothing could be improved on. The single biggest problem in need of fixing is the drop-off in thrust and energy that slows the pace of the “expository” segments. Tough as it may be to keep every bit of action taut and vital (particularly when bridging between this score’s musical peaks), any sag in intensity costs audience involvement and attention.

The sound system, which mostly does a good job of dispensing face-miked speech and song with a clarity penetrating enough to reach those who don’t always catch everything, was often piercing enough to need muting. High notes were particularly painful.

Finally, a couple program notes: a list of the musical numbers by act would have been welcome, as would thumbnail profiles/credits for at least the principal cast and crew members.

But nothing ever really threatens to kill the joy of this splendidly mounted piece of theatre, which always stays one step ahead of the game and never craps out.

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