Guys and Dolls

Local Arts Reviews

Guys and Dolls:

Joyfully Immersed in Old "Noo Yawk"

Helm Fine Arts Center at St. Stephen's School, through Aug. 10

Running Time: 2 hrs, 20 min

So here they are again, Nathan Detroit and Miss Adelaide, at odds as ever over their long-running engagement, she desperately seeking a wedding date (and relief from her chronic case of the sniffles), he just as desperately stalling that fearful trip down the aisle (so as to continue running "the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York"). The two actors on the Helm Fine Arts Center stage, like many who have played these roles before, draw much comic tension out of an engagement that's lasted 14 years -- so much, in fact, that listening to the way these two fuss and fume over each other's past transgressions, it's startling to realize that 14 years ago they were barely out of their Dr. Dentons.

In Broadway Texas Academy's production of Guys and Dolls, a couple of high schoolers take on these beloved characters and handle them with such finesse, fitting so snugly within the roles, that age is hardly an issue. Jordan Hamessley's Miss Adelaide alternates between the showgirl sparkle and bounce that testifies why she's the star attraction at the Hot Box nightclub and the forlornness of an unmarried woman, leavened with an endearing dollop of daffiness. Sean McGibbon's Nathan is a sly operator, his caffeinated delivery and moves revealing a man accustomed to working all the angles as fast as he can -- albeit not without a liberal amount of fretting and sweating. Together, they're a mess of a match -- clashing, clinging, breaking away -- but Hamessley and McGibbon lay a foundation of affection that makes Adelaide and Nathan's perpetual engagement credible. Young as they are, they look to be joyfully immersed in Damon Runyon's picturesque world.

And they aren't alone. They're flanked on all sides by youthful actors reveling in the outsized personalities of these characters, in the extravagant setting of a 1940s New York where scofflaws sport nicknames as colorful as the ties to their pinstripe suits, and every club boasts a chorus of dames with knockout gams. For the show's assortment of gamblers, gangsters, and rogues, the young men slather on the "Noo Yawk" accent like so much jam on toast, and the effect is similarly sweet. Moreover, they wisely invest these wise guys with doses of comical dignity, as if to say: Dese gents is not widout class, ya know. The Hot Box Girls squeal out "A Bushel and a Peck" and "Take Back Your Mink" in perky style, and at a pitch that, were it any higher, would be audible only to canines.

Oh, not every actor is so skillful that you don't notice their age. These are kids in adult parts, after all, and it would be unfair to assume that everyone in the cast is equally polished. It's more apparent in some than others -- the smaller stature here, the boyish face there, the occasional tense expression that betrays a young performer's concentration -- but mostly these actors know where they're supposed to go and when. And when they go, it looks sharp.

Broadway Texas Academy developed a strong reputation for musicals starring kids when it was the Austin Musical Theatre Performing Arts Academy, and this production continues that tradition. Director and choreographer K.C. Gussler sets some complicated moves on his young charges, which they execute with aplomb. And, of course, those Frank Loesser songs are challenges for singers of any age, but, with musical director Tom Mitchell, Gussler helps the cast deliver them with verve and showmanship.

Mostly, though, he helps them get the spirit of the piece, and that takes them a long way. All the way back to 1940s "Noo Yawk," pleasantly enough.

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Guys and Dolls, Broadway Texas Academy, Frank Loesser, K.C. Gussler, Jordan Hamessley, Sean McGibbon, Tom Mitchell

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