Filichia Features: GUYS AND DOLLS: Chestnut Still Roastable

Filichia Features: GUYS AND DOLLS: Chestnut Still Roastable

By Peter Filichia on November 16, 2018

Do you know that theater critics don't write headlines for their reviews?

I learned that after I wrote my very first professional review, which was for a production of Guys and Dolls.

The headline stated "Chestnut Still Roastable."

Here's the funny thing: Webster's has one meaning of "chestnut" as "an old story," but Guys and Dolls was then fewer than 19 years old.

What that headline should have said is "Perfect Musical Still Roastable." Along with My Fair Lady and She Loves Me, Guys and Dolls - which pits high-rollers vs. holy rollers -- belongs on the list.

That was reiterated last month at the University of Cincinnati - College-Conservatory of Music. Director-choreographer Diane Lala showed that even after 68 years what is now truly a chestnut is indeed still roastable.

No wonder that Guys and Dolls is still one of MTI's most popular titles. That fact would make Frank Loesser, its composer-lyricist (and MTI founder) quite proud.

Lala wisely had future star Aria Braswell play missionary Sarah Brown not as a hellfire-and-brimstone, clenched-fist doom-predictor. Her Sarah was instead a warm and welcoming young woman who genuinely wanted to help people. Some Sarahs are so severe that they make you scowl; this one made you smile and hope she got what she wanted.

Similarly speaking, Elle Zambarano, in playing Sarah's boss General Cartwright, had the same you'll-be-happier-once-you-meet-us attitude. No battle-axe she.

And yet, when Sky Masterson met Sarah and asked her if she'd ever been on a plane, the way Braswell said "No" showed a yearning, even a hunger, to fly. This nicely set up her later agreeing to go up in the sky with Sky.

Once Sky got her to Havana -- and got her drunk - Frankie Thams' Sky had the ideal mixture of delight, nervousness, guilt and love, doling out the perfect 25% to each. (The golden-voiced Thams is also someone to watch … and watch …and watch.)

Braswell was also extraordinary in the scene where her grandfather Arvide sang "More I Cannot Wish You." Being on stage and sitting while another character does all the singing is not an easy assignment. What do you do while he does everything?

The young actress showed she had the answer for this scene: bit by bit, Braswell perfectly calibrated her journey from utter discouragement to a ray of hope.

Early in the show, crap game promotor Nathan Detroit refers to the cop on the beat as "that lousy Brannigan" -- unaware that the policeman has just walked in and heard him. Now in most productions when his henchmen raise their eyebrows to let him know his error, Nathan gets nervous and blurts out a feeble excuse: "I hope you don't think I was talking about you. There are other lousy Brannigans."

How refreshing that here Matt Copely said it fearlessly. Nathan knows that Brannigan is aware of what he thinks of him, so why pretend otherwise? Copely was also bold in the way in the way he countered Brannigan that the way things have been going "You now have to live on your salary." The who's-kidding-who take on these lines was most refreshing.

Anya Axel was a smart Miss Adelaide, for she was far less squeaky in her delivery than so many I've seen. This character needn't be a cartoon, for when she delivers the reprise of "Adelaide's Lament," even the hardest-hearted bachelor wants her to get the marriage she's craved for 14 years. When Axel said "Oh, Nathan, let's do it," she made the plea equally and effectively real.

Don't you just hate when someone says something that you'd been thinking - for when you then blurt out "I was just going to say that!" you can't be sure that you'll ever be believed. That's what happened to me after Aubrey Berg, CCM's Department of Musical Theatre's Chairman, said "I'd like to see a Big Jule who isn't big at all."

I'll take a polygraph test and prove I'd been thinking the same thing for weeks leading up to the performance. That's what I get for keeping mum.

But really -- wouldn't it be funny to see a little pipsqueak intimidating everyone?

You might rebut that a Small Jule couldn't do that, but the script reveals that Harry the Horse - whose name alone suggests a big guy - does all of Big Jule's talking and dispenses the dire threats. So it's well worth a try in your next Guys and Dolls.

(Well, at least Aubrey and I think so.)

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