Guys and Dolls
produced by Susan Livingston
musical direction by Jefferson Packer
in the Cabot House JCR
through April 29
This weekend, the Cabot JCR shook with the shouts and whistles of a packed house which was there to watch Guys and Dolls, this year's edition of an annual Cabot tradition.
Decked out in gangster regalia and bimbo attire, the Cabotians preened and strutted the two hours away, smiling at their friends in the audience and playing to the crowd. The show, while perhaps not musically invincible, was entertaining--precisely because it was so laid back.
Guys and Dolls centers on a group of friendly neighborhood thugs hell-bent on finding a place to hold "the oldest established traveling floating crap game in New York."
With the local police lieutenant hip to their gambling schemes, all of the usual locations prove too risky, and Nathan Detroit (Benjamin Toro), must scramble to raise the $1,000 necessary to rent out the Biltmore Garage. The infamous Sky Masterson (Joel Kurtzberg) breezes into town on his way to Cuba, claiming, amongst other things, that he can get "any doll to Havana" that Detroit names. Detroit, desperate for cash, bets $1,000 on a militant missionary named Sarah Brown. Their wager launches the requisite musical love story.
Opening with a shout from little Ian Thomas, the adcrable son of a Cabot House tutor, the production attempts to incorporate the talents of all of the house residents--from undergraduates, to the Master himself, Professor Jurij Striedter, cast as the growling Big Julie. Striedter, one of the highlights of the show, swaggers across the stage with a huge cigar in his clenched teeth, roaring the occasional, "I came here to shoot crap. Let's shoot crap," in a New York accent that sound curiously German.
He is joined by an extremely large cast of Cabotians, led by Amy Dahlberg as Sarah Brown and Joel Kurtzberg as Sky Masterson. While the romantic leads sing with determined earnestness, their roles do not provide the comic latitude that some of the smaller parts allow. Benjamin Toro, as the fast-talking Nathan Detroit and Karen Hartshorn as Miss Adelaide, his fiancee of fourteen years, are blessed with much juicier material.
Adelaide, convinced that her lingering head cold is the direct result of the psychological trauma brought on by Nathan's refusal to tie the knot, sneezes her way through one of the best musical theater songs ever written. And Toro, obviously enjoying himself, plays the crass and loose lipped New Yorker to the hilt.
But the unquestionable highlight of the production is Vikram Savkar, as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, a hoodlum with an insatiable appetite. Pulling everything from hot-dogs to strings of Mozzarella cheese from his coat pockets and stuffing them in his mouth in mid-sentence, Savkar imbues his character with an endearing and unbounded nervous energy.
The main characters are joined by a large chorus of fedora-crowned men and fishnet-clad women. The singing ability of the cast members varies considerably, and often their harmonic attempts are extremely shaky, but the enthusiasm of the cast is uniformly unbounded.
The production also benefits from excellent costumes, designed by Betty McNally and a fair sized orchestra (which for some unknown reason interspersed the Guys and Dolls instrumental score with numerous renditions of the jazz standard, "Making Whoopee" and an ebullient "The Girl from Ipanema").
Assistant to the Masters and Director Susan Livingston, and Musical Director Jefferson Packer wisely choose to cut several of the extra song verses, helping the pacing of the show immeasurably.
At Harvard, it's rare to see something done purely for the fun of it. And while Guys and Dolls may not be as polished as some other recent musical theater productions, the energy that the cast members throw into their performances and the excitement and overwhelming support which flies from the audience dolls up an old musical standard.