by Terrance Mc Arthur
“Luck Be a Lady Tonight”…..and you’ll be lucky if you travel to Sanger for the Blossom Trail Players’ production of Guys and Dolls, playing through June 30.
It’s nearly 70 years old, this Frank Loesser/Jo Swerling/Abe Burrows musical based on stories by Damon Runyon, but a good production is always entertaining. The version BTP presents as its fourth annual show is very entertaining, with sure-footed direction, stellar performances, major musical accomplishments, and scenery that sets the scene and the era.
Nathan Detroit (Alex Gomez), proprietor of a floating crap game of New York City proportions, bets high-roller Sky Masterson (Greg Guerra) he can’t get Sarah Brown (Heidi Halsey) to go with him on a trip to Cuba. The twist is, she’s an anti-sin crusader for the Save-a-Soul Mission, and gambling qualifies as a sin in her book. Meanwhile, Miss Adelaide (Melissa Aaron) wants Nathan to end their 14-year engagement with shoes, rice, and a couple of I-Dos.
Guerra, last year’s Conrad Birdie for BTP, has a sleek look, a world-weary demeanor, and is reminiscent of a smoldering version of Paul Sorvino. You could see him attracting any woman he sets his eye on. His “Luck Be a Lady” is energetic and impassioned, while his ballads show off a warm tone that invites couples to snuggle and hold hands in the audience. (Did-ya-know fact—The 1950 Broadway Masterson was Robert Alda, father of Alan Alda from TV’s M*A*S*H.)
Halsey opens up her throat and wakes up the neighborhood with a clear clarion call. Her character’s unsureness as she faces her attraction to a major-league sinner shows the softening of Sarah’s missionary zeal into romantic tenderness.
Gomez has a pugnacious, Leo Gorcey (The Bowery Boys) image as a guy always trying to avoid the police…and wedding bells. He’s pleasantly frenetic, tuneful, and handles the Runyonesque dialogue as if he really was a low-rent gambler using high-toned words.
Aaron is a delight as the nightclub headliner with a soft spot for her gambler, whose continuing non-marital state manifests as a serious set of sniffles and sneezes. She spreads giggly sex appeal in the teasing “Take Back Your Mink,” and joins Halsey for a steely “Marry the Man Today,” which should set any bachelor shaking in his boots.
Nicely-Nicely Johnson is a plum role for an actor to pick, and Dmitrius Hopkins harvests it nicely-nicely, thank you. He soars through “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” managing to stay afloat while the chorus is surging around him in a spectacular number. As a former Nicely-Nicely, I was impressed with his job.
Erica Mardirosian provides a tough-as-nails mission general. “Fugue for Tinhorns” starts the singing with intricate counterpoint and harmonies from Hopkins, Edgar Olivera, and Cameron Robbins. Chuck Salanitro provides tender support as Sarah’s missionary-grandfather.
Elizabeth Fiester is one of the best directors in the Fresno region, and BTP was smart to get her. The show is crisp and fluid, which can also be said of Dan Husak’s sets, which slide in and out and around, and up and down, without a bobble. Debby Mennucci’s choreography is spritely, and Annette Husak’s costumes echo the era.
Before the show, Andrew Esquer and his orchestra treats the audience to a jazz concert that veers from Loesser to Brubeck. This year, the BTP Junior Company makes its debut with its “Ode to New York” blend of original music and NYC-themed music, sung by a band of budding talents.
Guys and Dolls plays at the Sanger High School Multi-purpose Room (I’d call it a cafetorium), 1045 Bethel Avenue, south of Jensen Avenue. Tickets can be purchased on their website.
During the intermission, try the cheesecake. You’ll be glad you did.
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