School of Drama performs Guys and Dolls

The School of Drama opened its winter musical Guys and Dolls this past Thursday with fantastic results. Though most audiences are familiar with Guys and Dolls, the Carnegie Mellon adaptation was completely fresh.

The Carnegie Mellon actors and actresses made the characters completely their own; the character of Adelaide, played by senior drama major Emily Rossell, stood out in particular. Rossell portrayed the often-exaggerated character as hysterical yet truly endearing; the audience loved her, as did the other players on stage. The choreography, particularly in the number “Luck Be a Lady,” was outstanding. The male chorus, made up of the criminal craps-shooters, performed a sophisticated and modern dance routine that included everything from ballet to break dancing. One of the more dexterous men flew across the stage in a front handspring, luring the audience into applause and cheers. And if the acting and dancing were not enough, the ethereal voices of senior drama majors Jessica Waxman and Robert Lenzi, playing the leads of Miss Sarah Brown and Sky Masterson, sang wonderful renditions of composer Frank Loesser’s melodious and well-known songs.

The musical follows professional gamblers in 1930s New York City. When a group of high rollers comes into town, Nathan Detroit (drama student Ben Goldberg), the head honcho of the New York craps game, wants to organize a game. In order to secure a place to play the game, Detroit must pay the owner of the Biltmore Hotel Garage $1000 in advance.

Unable to come up with the money on his own, Detroit bets fellow gambler Sky Masterson one grand that Masterson cannot bring a girl of Detroit’s choosing to dinner with him in Havana, Cuba that night. After Masterson agrees to the bet, Detroit chooses Miss Sarah Brown, a local missionary and well-known prude. What ensues over the next two hours is a love story in classical musical theater fashion. Masterson must find a way to lure the conservative Sarah Brown offshore for dinner, despite their opposite lifestyles and moral values. In a parallel love story, Detroit, who has been engaged for 14 years to Adelaide, a singer at the Hot Box club, must keep his relationship together and appease Adelaide’s persistent nagging to elope.

The second act opens with the Hot Box singers’ performance of “Take Back Your Mink,” a sexy number that flaunts the singers’ vocal chords... in addition to other body parts. Truly, the peripheral characters steal the second act. Arvide Abernathy (School of Drama course assistant Tristan Farmer), the grandfather to Sarah Brown, plays a convincing 80-something-year-old man, melting the audience during the song he sings to Sarah, “More I Cannot Wish You.” In “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat,” Nicely Nicely Johnson (senior drama student Barrett Davis) shows his charismatic side, re-enacting a dream he had about being on the boat to heaven; at the same time, General Matilda B. Cartwright (junior musical theater major Laura Mixon), the head missionary for the city, beats a tamborine while singing high enough to break glass.

Guy and Dolls is an American musical theater classic, and even if you have seen it once before (or several times), Carnegie Mellon’s production is not one to be missed. Director Steve Cosson breathes fresh air into the well-known script. “One of my goals in this production was to support the actors in their creation of fully realized characters,” Cosson wrote in an e-mail. “It’s still in the style of a musical comedy, but I believe the actors were very successful at basing their performances in the truth of their roles. They created characters as opposed to caricatures, and I was delighted to see that.”

In addition to their talent, Cosson recognized his cast’s commitment to their work. “The CMU actors are impressive on many levels, from their technical expertise to their stamina — putting together a full musical in the midst of a full schedule of classes is no small feat,” wrote Cosson, also the founding artistic director of Obie-winning New York theater group The Civilians, “but I was particularly impressed by their enthusiasm and generosity. Something I love about young actors is their willingness to just jump in feet first and commit to what they’re doing.”

Overall, the show was a wonderful success and accomplishment for the School of Drama and Carnegie Mellon in general — a Broadway-quality show for a quarter of the price. If it’s possible to look up from your textbooks during finals preparation, considering using that free time to see Guys and Dolls.