Students from Chatham High School revive a Broadway classic this week, and on Wednesday nearly 100 senior citizens enjoyed a preview performance.
“Guys & Dolls,” which the New York Daily News called "the perfect musical comedy," opened on Broadway in 1950, the start of the last decade of Broadway's Golden Age. Those who attended Wednesday's preview performance almost certainly knew the songs and lines, and their joy at hearing them again was palpable.
Director Lynn Polan assembled a cast of 52 students, and their energy was clearly boosted by the enthusiasm of their elders. During intermission, many a silver-haired patron was overheard proudly saying, “That’s my grandson,” “That’s my granddaughter,” as they pointed to the photos in the lobby.
The libretto is based on stories by Damon Runyon, whose characters and idioms preserved the flavor of Prohibition-era Manhattan, especially the various gamblers, cops and chorines that gave Times Square its color. That student actors can faithfully portray them in 2011 proves how indelible the material is, and how well trained these young troupers are.
The quartet who portrayed the lead couples in “Guys & Dolls” more than met the challenge of carrying the show. David Wych, who played an affecting George in the high school's fall production of “Our Town,” effortlessly doubles that character’s age and savvy as Nathan Detroit, proprietor of New York’s “oldest established permanent floating crap game.”
His counterpart, the suave high-roller Sky Masterson, is played by Sean Switzer, who has the charisma and the smooth baritone to play this romantic hero. Masterson's love interest is the winsome Salvation Army Sergeant Sarah Brown, and Emily Deter leaves no doubt why these opposites attract.
The final member of this foursome is Miss Adelaide, Nathan’s “well known fiancée” of 14 years. Alison DePasquale, with her nasal accent and belting voice, gives a professional-caliber performance in the role.
The four are aided by stellar supporting players, especially Clifford Gaschler as Nicely-Nicely, who nails the score’s 11 o’clock number, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.” Kira Kopacz, the latest example of Polan’s clever gender-bending plays “Arvida” Abernathy, a heretofore male mentor for Sarah, who’s given one of the sweetest lesson songs in Broadway history, “More I Cannot Wish You.” Kira’s delivery doesn’t miss a beat.
Other notable contributions include Aaron Harmaty and Dylan Tencic as Nathan’s chief hustlers, Billy Arnuk as the relentless but ultimately frustrated vice cop, Lindsey Kellstrom as Salvation General Cartwright, and Matt Horowitz as lovable bully Big Julie.
The large chorus, too numerous to mention, sings and dances with aplomb. Their classmates on the stage crew are un-sung heroes, and manage the many scene changes smoothly. The designers deserve special mention, too: Tina Mazzola’s costumes burst with the color of spring flowers, and Travis McHale’s sets are simple but evocative, especially his clever transition to the sewer scene.
When you add up all the students in the orchestra, in the control booth and on various crews, a huge segment of the entire high school is invested in this show. Such involvement is why high school musicals have become a virtual varsity sport, and everyone should feel pride in their mutual accomplishment.
Following a standing ovation, 64 of the seniors (about two-thirds of those who attended the performance at) enjoyed the now-traditional post-show dinner, arranged by committee heads Mary Jo Oakley, Lucy Malatesta and Sheila Collier.
A bevy of juniors earned some required service points by working as waiters and bakers. The menu was provided by Hickory Tree Deli, Pascarella Brothers’ Deli, Arminio’s Italian Corner, Hickory Tree Pizza, Café Villa and A Taste of Naples.
Performances of “Guys & Dolls” are Thursday at 6 p.m. and Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at $10 for students, $12 for adults at the door.