You promise me this. You promise me that. You promise me anything under the sun… belts out a swell Elizabeth Hester as Miss Adelaide, the cherry on top of a high-energy revival of Frank Loesser’s classic Broadway musical of 1940s era New York City high rollers meets holy rollers at the Kensington Arts Theatre at the Kensington Town Center. I promise you that it is worth seeing this audience-pleasing production just for her.
Hester, a graduate of The Julliard School, shows off her musical comedy chops in such toe-tapping numbers as, “Adelaide’s Lament,” “Take Back Your Mink,” and in a duet where she soars over Nathan Detroit, played by a bumbling, sweet Jeff Breslow in a turn more Nathan Lane than Frank Sinatra. As Miss Adelaide, she channels a Patty LuPone brashness with a Bette Midler sense of timing.
A former WATCH winner for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical, Hester shows why she is the winner in this production—and why she should be a top contender for future musical comedy roles.
Under the direction of Kensington Art Theatre founder Craig Pettinati, and under the guidance of first-time producer Carol Jones, this Guys and Dolls rolls the dice and scores a few losses, but more big wins. Justine Summers as the buttoned-up Save-A-Soul-Mission sergeant, Sarah Brown, and the object of the bet made between Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson played by Jordan Clifford, has a lovely soprano. However, the scenes between her and Sky, which should sizzle, especially those set in Havana, fall flat.
On the other hand, the trio of Matt Yinger as Nicely Nicely, Garrett Zink as Harry the Horse, and particularly, James Downing as Benny Southstreet score big. In their scenes together—especially performing the title song, as well as their parts in “Luck Be A Lady,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” are standouts. It is the latter scene, which also benefits from an innovative bit of stagecraft—with the actors testifying at the missionary from the audience— that places this terrific musical comedy trio centerstage and wins all.
Some elements of this community theater production distract from the rollicking energy of the performances. The orchestra, led by Matthew Dohm, often overwhelms the singers’ voices in this cavernous hall, especially in the case of the reedy, pop vocals of Clifford. The onstage video screen, which serves as the primary atmospheric design element, flashes up an often-disconnected collage of film clips, period photos, and artwork—less would be so much more. A few vintage photographs of Times Square would have done the trick. The choreography could also have done more with fewer steps, as more than once the Hot Box girls, and the couple representing the steamy Cuban night, were tepid.
Lastly, the props and costumes: there is no need to have a fake cigarette in anyone’s hands. This is not an anti-smoking screed; however, there was a certain way that movie stars of the 30s and 40s just knew how to hold a cigarette. Thank goodness our young actors no longer know how but neither can they fake it very well. Regarding the costumes—and here a sense of style, or pizzazz as my Pop would say, is called for—too many suits, ties, and fedoras. In the case of Clifford in particular, his frequent costume changes from one suit in-need-of-a-tailor to another distract from the actor’s natural brooding Brando-like sex appeal.
However, I promise you this and I promise you that—the songs will stay in your head—and even more, I promise you: This Guys and Dolls revival is an audience-pleaser.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.
Kensington Arts Theater’s Guys and Dolls plays through November 24, 2019, at the Kensington Town Center, 3710 Mitchell Street, Kensington, MD. For tickets, call 240-621-0528, or go online.