Friday, April 4, 2003
Guys & Dolls Jr. a smash hit
After seeing Guys & Dolls Jr., presented last weekend at the Carlisle School by the seventh-grade class, one comes away with the following conviction: that although Carlisle is small, the talent pool evident in our children is huge.
The comic timing was dead-on, the performances from the leads to chorus "bit" parts were well thought out and confidently executed, instrumental interludes and singing voices were pure and true. But naturally, behind every successful seventh grader, stands an army of teachers and parents (not to mention a few grandparents, siblings and Carlisle school alumni) who built sets, dug up props, created costumes, publicized the show, applied make-up, ran sound and lights and served as rehearsal chaperones. Add in Carlisle School teachers Antonio Villar (director), Megan Fitzharris (music director) and choreographer Gail Rhodes, and it is more than clear that "Guys & Dolls Jr." was a monumental group effort.
"Logistically, this was a very challenging show," says first-time director Villar, who himself has numerous stage, film and television credits. And although he allows that the demands of coordinating nearly a hundred kids and behind-the-scenes work were often exhausting, the the payoff was worth it. "When I handed [the show] over to the kids on opening night, I felt like an expectant mother. I'd nurtured this and was watching it become something that wasn't part of me any more. The kids took it over and made it their own. It was very rewarding."
Guys & Dolls, (the "junior" version performed by the students is shorter than the original and geared toward middle school students) with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, is set in New York City in the 1950s. The story revolves around Nathan Detroit (played by Sean Dwyer), the organizer of "the oldest established, permanent floating crap game in New York," who bets fellow gambler Sky Masterson (Owen Callahan) that he can't make the next girl he sees fall in love with him. Enter Sarah Brown (Molly DeGuglielmo), a pure-at-heart Salvation Army-type reformer, and what starts as an idle bet leads to true love plus Masterson's delivery of one dozen genuine sinners to the Save A Soul Mission. The quartet of lead players includes Nathan Detroit's long-suffering fiancée, Adelaide (Lisa Yanofsky).
Guys & Dolls Jr. opened with a street scene that offered chorus members a chance to ham it up in mini-vignettes, featuring Broadway stars and adoring bobby soxers, Texas tourists, cops and convicts, pickpockets and boxers. Then came the first of many memorable tunes from Guys & Dolls: "Fugue for Tinhorns," with complicated harmonies performed admirably by Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Parker Schweer), Benny Southstreet (Dan Gentile) and Rusty Charlie (Tyler Smith). (Schweer did a great job later as well, in the show-stopper "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat.")
Other well-known songs included "Adelaide's Lament," "A Bushel and a Peck" (complete with a lively dance number performed by the multi-talented Yanofsky and the Hot Box Girls, a.k.a. the "Farmer-ettes"), "I've Never Been in Love Before" and "Luck Be a Lady."
The students did an admirable job with their roles, with Sean Dwyer being a particular stand-out. His stage presence and comic timing as the beleaguered Nathan Detroit were right on target. All of the solo voices were strong and sweet, and there was something particularly poignant about love duets being sung in the same octave. (This is still seventh grade, after all.)
As always, the Carlisle School does a great job of showcasing its talented musicians in the annual play. During set changes, audiences were treated to numerous instrumental solos. As for the Mission Band, instead of having actors on stage pretending to play instruments, the Carlisle School featured the real thing, with Matthew Cheever on euphonium, Nick Darling on trumpet, Zach Lou on clarinet, Kate Ostrowski on flute and Alec Hutson on saxophone.
Although Villar says that directing is "a hundred million times harder than acting," there is something very fitting about this being his first stint as director. Villar himself had his first lead role in a seventh-grade production ("Tom Sawyer") and notes that theater helped him in his search for personal identity and self expression.
Did "Guys and Dolls Jr." result in any of the children catching the acting bug, as he did at a young age? "Absolutely." says Villar, allowing that some came to the show "already infected." Among the other students, Villar observed that there were several converts. "I could tell that there were kids who have never been on stage before who have found a new outlet, a new "home," he says.
© 2003 The Carlisle Mosquito