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Guys & Dolls: A Review

August 11, 2009

On a drizzly Sunday afternoon, Syracuse Opera’s chorus members presented everyone’s favorite musical about gambling, Guys & Dolls.

Considering that it was free and I wanted to put off school work, I decided to go. I thought it would be interesting to see an opera company’s version of the musical. I regret the decision.
For starters, the musical, which was supposed to be presented at the Thornden Park ampitheater, was moved to a middle school’s cafetorium (I really hate that word), whose acoustics, heat and small stage probably made a difference.
The orchestra, conducted beautifully by Douglas Kinney Frost, was on the floor beneath the stage while the cast sat in chairs that lined the back of the stage. There were five microphones at the front of the stage–clearly denoting that his was going to be more of a concert than a staged version.
I thought to myself ‘I can handle that. Opera singers should be great. The music itself will be wonderful and it won’t make me miss the staging.’ But let’s be honest: Guys & Dolls is NOTHING without staging.
There was no set change or dance number during “Havana” or during “The Crapshooter’s Ballet”, which is a shame since those scenes are iconic. The Hot Box girls were neither sexy nor campy: they were just tragic. (They brought pitchforks, a stuffed pig and a shovel on-stage during “A Bushel and a Peck”….all irony was lost and not in an ironic way.)
Now, let’s talk about the voices. For the most part, it was pretty good.
The men playing Nicely Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet and Rusty Charley (Zachary Martin, Matthew Green and Alfonso Annotto) harmonized beautifully and played well off of each other during “Horse Right Here,” “The Oldest Established,” and “Guys and Dolls,” and generally lived up to the expectation of those characters.
Nora Fleming, as Sarah, had zero stage presence, but she did have the chops to sing the role. However, this was undermined by Matthew Vavalle’s horrendous portrayal of Skye Masterson. The man sang every note flat, which completely ruined “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and made “Luck Be a Lady” unbearable. It got to the point where I was praying that he wouldn’t sing the song and would just let the orchestra play.
And then there was Susan Pearce as General Matilda Cartwright. She wore camo. I’m still appalled at this huge misrepresentation of the character.
However, betwixt the bad, there were some stand-out performances. Michael Connor and Susan Basile stole the show as Nathan Detroit and Adelaide. They could sing, had stage presence and cared both about their characters and their relationship with each other. Their rendition of (my personal favorite) “Sue Me” was lovely and tense all at once. They definitely did the characters justice and almost made me forget about the other horrible things happening throughout the show. Almost.
But, my absolute favorite person was Richard McKee, playing the Narrator and Big Julie. His spot on, exaggerated New York accent, dry humor and dubious glances were perfect. He encapsulated everything that is Guys & Dolls in his far too few lines and made me snort with laughter on several occasions. He was the reason I stayed in my seat after intermission.
I understand that this was a public service that the Syracuse Opera provided for the community of Syracuse, which almost makes me feel bad for being critical. But not bad enough.
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