CLO does itself proud with classic -- and classy -- 'Guys and Dolls'

      Wednesday, July 10, 2002

      By Christopher Rawson, Post-Gazette Drama Critic

      I just didn't want it to end.

            Victoria Clark stars as Nathan Detroit's long suffering fiancé Miss Adelaide in Pittsburgh CLO's production of "Guys and Dolls."

         Maybe it's just because I'm getting older and softer that the great musicals seem to touch my heart deeper each time. But you'd have to be an impervious flint-souled cynic to hold out against the comic and romantic appeal of "Guys and Dolls."  And maybe the CLO is getting better, too.

      Mainly, though, it's because Frank Loesser's 1950 charmer is a classic.

      That's an overused word, but what else do you call this melodic, funny, Runyonesque myth set in one of the treasured American times and places, the raffish Broadway underworld of yesteryear?

      "Wait a minute," my students would say. "You always tell us to back up our praise. Labels aren't enough.  Why is it a classic?"

      OK, it's a classic because it has the chutzpah to start with a fugue! ... a fugue "for tinhorns," it says, and, no, a tinhorn isn't an instrument. It's a classic because it assumes you know things like that -- and     Scarsdale Galahad, hollanderize and Barbasol (rhymes with doll). Because "Pimlico" gets a laugh, all by itself. Because "oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York" makes such a great song lyric.

      And, "if she's making a kind of a name for herself but the name ain't his." Hear the rhythm?

      Because when you call the Biltmore Gargage you get Joey Biltmore, so it isn't that Biltmore after all.       Because it names the nightclub the Hot Box and stages a strip tease number, but nobody gets bent out of shape. Because it mixes gamblers with the Salvation Army, and it sets a ballet in a sewer.

      Because you wait for the great moments ("Adelaide's Lament" and "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," for two), but you keep meeting other great moments you forgot or never before noticed the greatness of -- like Sky Masterson's "My Time of Day," a gorgeous fragment of an art song slipped in as a throw-away intro to a love duet.

      Because it contains a reference not only to Pittsburgh but also Rhode Island. (I'm allowed one private pleasure.)

      Because it's a cartoon wrapped around real feelings. There's irony and wit, but the show also relieves you of their burden: It's smart enough to allow you to laugh first, then feel, knowing that feeling matters most.

       Wayne Pretlow (Nicely-Nicely), Justin Deas (Nathan Detroit) and Dan Krell (Benny Southstreet) play three charismatic gamblers.

      And because girls look great in those '40s styles. Of course none of this would make the impact it does if the CLO hadn't done itself proud. To start, they use sets and costumes from the 1992 Broadway revival and tour. The sets have a sweet, colorful, jazzy feel, as though Broadway were some precious, undiscovered corner of Paris. (A corner with its jokes in English, though: "Marx Hotel," "Spooks McGurk," a show called "Blonde Mink.")

      The costumes go even further, profligate with super-saturated colors, heightening the myth with Dick Tracy styling and more stripes (from pin on up) than you can find on a veldt full of zebra. Within this cartoon, we find cartoon denizens (as Runyon would say) surrounding four real people. My wife said it first, as she often does:

      The four leads at the center of this confection have real complexities we understand.

      On the romantic side, the CLO gives us Robert Cuccioli and Kate Suber as Sky and Sarah. He's a dreamboat, but he has the ease of restraint: Romance oozes out of him, he doesn't force it. Suber matches him in reticence, as when, restrained by their different codes, they sing their passion unmoving, far apart.

      Victoria Clark and Justin Deas star as Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit.

      Suber's face is rich in planes. In contrast, Victoria Clark's Adelaide is warm and ditsy, with no angles sharp enough to bruise. Even more than the others -- and this whole cast knows its timing -- she stretches a pause into another comic dimension, filling it with curious delight. In her lament, she croons the pivotal "in other words" with a whole new spin; ditto on the title words from "take back your mink," which now seem to tell a whole story.

      Justin Deas is a comically oppressed Nathan -- for once I thought this Nathan really might like to settle down in that rural cottage. Deas has fine comic instincts, though on opening night he wasn't yet completely at ease in all his scenes.

      This is Van Kaplan's directorial debut, and his work and the lively, elegant dances set by choreographer Mark Esposito are both crisp and clean. The dancing ensemble, though small, is especially strong. Among a much solid support, Dan Krell and Wayne Pretlow frame the play with humor and voice as the lead tinhorns.

      Kaplan would probably say that with a classic like this, you can't go wrong. With all the fine resources the CLO enlists, maybe he's right. We just get to enjoy the result.

     The Post Gazette     

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