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For One Night An Authentic New York Restored

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium Carnegie Hall
04/03/2014 -  
Frank Loesser: Guys and Dolls
Nathan Lane (Nathan Detroit), Megan Mullally (Miss Adelaide), Sierra Boggess (Sarah Brown), Patrick Wilson (Sky Masterson), Len Cariou (Arvide Abernathy), John Treacy Egan (Nicely Nicely Johnson), Christopher Fitzgerald (Benny Southstreet), John Bolton (Angie the Ox), Robert Clohessy (Lieutenant Brannigan), Colman Domingo (Rusty Charlie), Steve Schirripa (Big Jule), Judy Kaye (General Cartwright), Lee Wilkof (Harry the Horse)
Orchestra of Saint Luke’s, Rob Fisher (Musical Director and Conductor)
Jack O’Brien (Director), Joshua Bergasse (Choreographer), William Ivey Long (Costume Consultant), Alan Adelman (Lighting Designer), Wendall K. Harrington (Projections Designer), Nevin Steinberg (Sound Designer)

(© Richard Termine)

I grew up in New York. Strange as it is to say, I miss the essence of the city I have loved most acutely when I am actually here. Year by year, much of what is so full of character and memories and so quintessentially New York seems to fall before the imperatives of the new and the ever more posh. Fifty seventh street is a sad case in point. Cultural landmarks and other buildings of distinction have been lost to property developers of high priced flats and offices. The wonderful music shop, Patelson’s (just around the corner on 56th Street) and most recently Rizzoli’s bookshop are just two of the treasures now lost. Steinway Hall is about to close as well, to provide air rights for a fifty- one floor condominium tower next door. Thankfully, Carnegie Hall was saved, due to the determination of Isaac Stern and his enlightened allies. But although they prevailed, the battle was hard fought.

The city of my parents’ childhood has largely disappeared – preserved only in marvelous old films including the 1955 Guys and Dolls.,a cinematic record of a perfectly crafted musical that made it’s Broadway debut five years earlier. Guys and Dolls has been revived countless times – here and far away. I remember a fine London production from the early 1980’s. Nathan Lane became a star based on his portrayal of Nathan Detroit in a revival staged on Broadway twenty-two years ago. A woman seated next to me had seen that production.

Composer Frank Loesser wrote the words and the music, based on a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. Two stories by Damon Runyon were their inspiration. How wonderfully memorable these characters are – a mix of lovable petty criminals – the “sinners” – and a small crew of idealists who try to save them from themselves. There is also a befuddled policeman in hot but unsuccessful pursuit. Loesser’s creation is sentimental, funny and brash. Nathan, Adelaide, Sarah, Sky and the rest exist in a world that is vibrantly alive with idiosyncratic characters manifesting a peculiarly New York patois, mode of behavior and most of all attitude. And for one night only, in the mostly quintessentially New York venue of them all, Carnegie Hall, the lost world of Guys and Dolls was restored to us. And it was a joy and a privilege to be there.

The orchestra, singers, dancers, projections and lighting were all first rate. Such loving care went into this performance. The cast (those listed above and a company of 30 additional artists) was composed of prominent performers even in the smaller roles. On their own time, these very busy people rehearsed for almost 2 weeks. They produced a love letter to a vanished New York and to a robust and thriving Carnegie Hall.

The show was semi-staged but it lacked nothing, with the space constraints more than compensated for by Jack O’Brien’s ingenious direction. (O’Brien’s credits and range run from Shakespeare to the Metropolitan Opera’s Il trittico.) There were a lot of people on the Carnegie stage, but the blocking was so good that it never felt crowded. No one wandered around aimlessly. Every movement seemed purposeful, but not fake, and stylish but also authentic. Joshua Bergasse’s complex choreography, with the highpoint of the evening, the “Crapshooters Dance” was simply superb.

Wendall Harrington’s colorful projections on the back wall of the stage set the scenes (be they on the streets or in the sewers of New York, on a stage within a stage at the Hot Box Club or, under the palm trees of Havana). Alan Adelman’s marvelous use of light from time to time, such as the chorus line sequence in “Take Back Your Mink,” virtually blacked out the orchestra from our line of vision. So it really did not look like or feel like a concert performance. There were few props – mostly small tables and quite a few chairs. The costumes for all the characters were in period and those for the dancers were fabulous.

N. Lane and M. Mullally (© Richard Termine)

The four principal roles were perfectly cast. Sierra Boggess sang with luminosity and longing, portraying Sarah’s idealism and her awakening love. Patrick Wilson as Sky cut a romantic figure and sang with a fine light baritone. The evening belonged to Lane and Mullally. They were brilliant. Lane recreated this role for one night, 22 years after he starred in a terrific revival of Guys and Dolls on Broadway. He was In great voice. His Nathan Detroit was funny but also touching.

Megan Mullally is a superb actress and dancer. “Adelaide’s Lament” properly delivered can stop any show. She did that – and much more. She created a fully rounded character. And she vividly captured the moment when the long suffering fiancée realizes that her persistent cold had psychosomatic origins. Mullally’s voice can be brassy when required. But she can sing with touching lyricism.

The large supporting cast was uniformly excellent but special mention goes to John Treacy Egan, Colman Domingo, and Christopher Fitzgerald for their performance of the opening number, “Fugue for Tinhorns.” Kudos too for the sentimental favorite of the evening, Len Cariou, for his touching portrayal of Arvide Abernathy, the worldly saver of souls. The Orchestra of Saint Luke’s under Rob Fisher played with passion and rhythmic punch. And the original orchestrations. It was a truly unforgettable evening!

Arlene Judith Klotzko



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