Monday, March 2, 2015

Miss Ashleigh's Lament, or Guys and Dolls in Tucson

It started out as a great plan - Amster and her kids and I would drive down to the University and see Guys and Dolls, part of Broadway in Tucson, a Nederlander Presentation.  We'd go out for pizza and wings or chimichangas and flautas for dinner, and I'd be home in time to watch the Arizona-Utah basketball game at 7.

Then other plans for the kids intervened and others were invited and then changed their plans and by the time I ended up in my seat in Centennial Hall I wasn't really sure who was sitting where. I was focused on the fact that I'd managed to keep up with Elizibeth on a trek through college students and visiting parents and Cal divers and free frogurt and my hip was only vaguely announcing its presence. I'm not sure my gait was perfect, but she didn't have to slow her pace for me.

Progress is progress, slow though it may be.

With Bert and Ernie filling out our ranks, we settled into fairly comfortable if not well raked seats. The tall man in front of us changed places with his short wife at intermission; I know whereof I speak.  The music started - yes, it was a live, if small, orchestra - and the woman behind me began to hum along.  It didn't bother me at all; I was doing the same thing.  The reviews in the papers encouraged viewers to keep their sing-alongs to themselves, but it was clear from the get-go that that was not going to happen.

At times, I wondered if the audience might have outshone the performers on stage.

Isn't that a sad thing to type?  Beautiful Annie has season tickets for Broadway in Tucson, and her Facebook page is dotted with Why are they screaming instead of singing? and THIS is not musical theatre! After last Saturday, I know exactly what she means.

Frank Loesser and Damon Runyon did not write lethargically.  There is nothing slow about the not-quite-sung-more-like-patter music and lyrics which bring early 20th century Times Square alive on stage.  It's big and booming and noisy and crowded in their world.  It's flash and sparkle and charming cheats and big hearted blondes.  What was presented at the matinee was almost none of those things.

Miss Adelaide, whose Lament was one of G'ma's favorite tunes, had a tiny voice without any noticeable New York accent.  She may have been born in Rhode Island, but she'd been in NYC for at least the 14 years of her engagement to Nathan Detroit.... and the accent makes the Lament the story it is.  Without it, and with her poor diction and inability to enunciate when the going got tough, all a newcomer could fathom was that she was somehow, for some reason, sneezing on stage.
Nathan Detroit mumbled almost as much as his lady love, and he never seemed to fully inhabit his role.  There's something disconcerting about an actor who's watching himself perform.

There were anachronistic touches - the guy roller skating in satin short-shorts would have been more at home in a Men At Work video than on Damon Runyon's streets.  There were sloppy touches - pressing the hems on the men's jackets would seem to be part and parcel of a wardrobe supervisor's job.  It was a very expensive way to see what the Nederlander organization thinks is acceptable American theater.

Skye Masterson and Miss Sarah Brown had voices which soared, carrying the story along when I began to despair.  Though the Havana cafe scene was more athletic than frenetic, more splits and cartwheels than drunken debauchery, these two made up for it in the moonlight, admitting I've Never Been in Love Before.

I wish I'd remembered More I Cannot Wish You for Little Cuter and SIR's wedding; Arvide was a glimmer of hope in the otherwise disappointing second act... disappointing until Nicely Nicely and the gamblers got religion.  Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat  had everything the rest of the performance lacked.  It was quick, it was sharp, it was busy, it was synchronized, and the words were clearly sung.  The audience was engaged; there was much foot tapping and head bobbing and shoulder waggling.

It almost made me sadder, somehow.  Obviously, the company has it in itself to create joy on the stage. I wish it had been able to capture that joy and spread it out over the nearly three hours we spent in our seats.

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