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Published: Saturday, 6/16/2007

Valentine's musical has charm to spare

BY NANCIANN CHERRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Miss Adelaide (Maribeth Stahl), center, is surrounded by the
Hot Box dancers, clockwise from bottom left, Victoria Monhollen
Clyce, Jenny Kormanyos, Cindy Bilby, Sara Swisher, Ashley Begley, and Jeannine Stramel. Miss Adelaide (Maribeth Stahl), center, is surrounded by the Hot Box dancers, clockwise from bottom left, Victoria Monhollen Clyce, Jenny Kormanyos, Cindy Bilby, Sara Swisher, Ashley Begley, and Jeannine Stramel.
Enlarge

The Valentine Theatre's Guys and Dolls, which continues tonight and tomorrow, is a charmer of a show.

Although it's not perfect, it builds enough goodwill so that its flaws are minimized.

Inspired by the stories of Damon Runyon, the musical is about two gamblers and the women in their lives in what seems to be the 1950s.

The first gambler is Nathan Detroit, who runs a floating crap game. He's in love with Miss Adelaide, a lead dancer at the Hot Box night club. They've been engaged for 14 years, and Nathan is quite happy with that state of affairs, but she is lobbying for a change in status.

The second is Sky Masterson, a high roller who doesn't understand why Nathan stays true to Miss Adelaide, because there are plenty of beautiful dolls out there who are less demanding. Sky says he could get any doll he wants, and Nathan, needing money to rent a site for his latest game, bets Sky that he can't get Sarah Brown, who runs the faltering Save a Soul Mission in the Broadway district.

The four leads are played by Mark Tomesek, Maribeth Stahl, Bill Lancz, and Ashley Nowak.

The women are superb.

Stahl brings down the house as the dancer who wants her man to exchange his gambling ways for a little house with a picket fence and five kids. It would be easy enough to make Miss Adelaide a complete ditz, but Stahl makes us believe that she's more naive (despite the fact that she's a showgirl) than stupid.

Nowak has a voice like an angel and a demeanor to go with it, at least as Sarah Brown. Her resume also includes turns as Sally Bowles in Cabaret and Velma Kelly in Chicago. But here, she is utterly believable as a missionary.

The leading men did not fare as well, but that might be the fault of my expectations rather than their skills.

Tomesek, a theater and television veteran, was very smooth as Nathan, but in other productions I've seen, the character was more frenetic as he tried to juggle the multiple demands on his time, wallet, and freedom.

And Lancz, an actor whose work I've enjoyed for several years at the University of Toledo, seemed too boyish for Sky's sophistication and experience.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a bad performance; Lancz has talent to spare. But in this case, he simply didn't make me believe.

Oh, one other couple deserves special mention: Nicely Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet, played by, respectively, Tim Keogh and Zach Lahey. Strictly speaking, they aren't a couple, but they are onstage together quite a bit, and whenever they are, they light up the production.

The large ensemble is made up of community theater veterans (several of whom appeared in the Toledo Repertoire Theatre's recent productions of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Fully Monty), and it's always a pleasure to watch them work.

The real stars of the show, however, are Runyan's words and Frank Loesser's memorable music.

The dialogue is a strange combination of street slang and formal speech - no contractions - that quickly becomes poetic. ("For two weeks I gambled in green pastures. The dice were my cousins and the dolls were agreeable with nice teeth and no last names.")

Loesser's songs, which include "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," "Adelaide's Lament," and the title tune, are so memorable, they'll rattle around the the brain for days.

Director Dale Vivirito kept the show smoothly flowing, making the two-plus hour running time (with intermission) go quickly. And Tim Durham's sets evoked the seedy side of New York about which Runyan often wrote.

Andrew Henderson accompanied the singers and dancers on two synthesizers. A live orchestra would have been preferable, but budget constraints are a fact of life ... and theater.

With a timeless story and acting that's never less than decent, Guys and Dolls is a fine evening of theater.

"Guys and Dolls" continues at 8 tonight and 2 p.m. tomorrow in the Valentine Theatre, 400 North Superior St. Tickets range from $23 to $39. Information: 419-242-2787.

Contact Nanciann Cherry at: ncherry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6130.



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