MOORHEAD — “Guys and Dolls” premiered on Thursday, Nov. 9 at the Frances Frazier Comstock Theatre with a nearly sold out show. Directed and choreographed by Denise Holland Bethke, this production had the difficult task of following up last year’s “Rocky Horror Show,” which was undeniably a crowd favorite. Despite this daunting expectation, “Guys and Dolls” lived up to the Concordia College standard of excellence when it comes to its theatre productions.
The permanent set emulated Broadway street in New York City, with its numerous elevated signs and billboards. It was absolutely stunning under the stage lights. Each sign was unique and beautifully hand painted by the scene shop crew, and some of the signs were framed by their own sets of lights.
The rest of the set was relatively minimal, only including benches, a desk, a 2D newsstand that was attached to the fly system, a bar counter, sewer pipes on wheels and a handful of other smaller set pieces.
At first I was skeptical of this simplistic set, but I soon came to realize it fit perfectly with Bethke’s take on the show, which had frequent and complex dance sequences. By having an open stage, it allowed the actors to use and explore the full breadth of space in their dance numbers.
Set pieces were masterfully incorporated into the choreography and blocking throughout the show. The sewer pipes were used as part of the choreography in Act II’s “Luck Be A Lady.” Gangsters from the ensemble were wheeled around the stage on the pipes, creating a multi-layered dance sequence that thoroughly engaged the audience.
For the most part, this open and mostly bare stage worked well for the show. However, there were still certain scenes where I questioned if it was too minimal. Towards the end of Act I, there were two songs in a row that featured Sky and Sarah with an empty stage, aside from the floating signs and billboards. This wouldn’t have been a problem if there was choreography or if the actors had used more of the stage – but the actors were standing center-stage during both songs, with almost no blocking, leaving the audience without much to look at. The actors did a phenomenal performance of both songs, but the lack of set made it hard to visualize where the characters were, if not just on a stage.
This production made heavy use of its ensemble, with a handful of its members having more stage time than even the lead characters. The ensemble in this show was strong, energetic and committed. When they were on stage, whether as hot box girls, gangsters, bridesmaids, or a tourist, they were delightful to watch. Their commitment to their choreography really shone through in dances such as “Luck Be a Lady,” “Havana,” and “Take Back Your Mink,” to name a few.
One of the most iconic moments in the show for me, choreography-wise, was the portrayal of a fight between Sarah Brown and an ensemble member during the song “Havana.” It was gorgeously choreographed by Bethke, and it involved nearly the entire cast in a sort of fight-dance between Sarah and the ensemble member, where they lunged at each other before eventually being carried off-stage by Sky and another ensemble member, respectively.
There are many instances like this sprinkled throughout the show where Bethke incorporates dance as a story-telling device, rather than solely relying on dialogue or singing to advance the plot.
The lead characters, like Miss Adelaide, Sarah Brown, Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson, played larger than life characters that blurred the lines between realistic and cartoonish.
This was especially true for Miss Adelaide, played by Mary Noah, who was my personal favorite. From her lavish costumes to her Brooklyn accent and squeaky voice, Adelaide’s characterization made her the most memorable for me.
At the end of the show, the audience gave the cast a well-deserved standing ovation. When seeing “Guys and Dolls,” it’s immediately obvious the amount of time, effort, and passion that went into this production from the cast, crew, and director.
“Guys and Dolls” runs at the Frances Frazier Comstock Theatre until Nov. 18, so if you didn’t see it this past weekend, get your tickets now! They’re free for all students and staff.