In last weekend's performances of Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls, J. Ernest Green and the Annapolis Chorale, Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and soloists again proved that music is the one essential component of all classic Broadway shows, and music is best served in a concert setting.
Green's minimalist staging and judicious use of dialogue made other more elaborate productions seem superfluous. Costumes were well-suited to the characters, with the guys looking sharp and the dolls fetching, most notably Katie Hale as an adorable Miss Adelaide and Amy Cofield doing wonders for her plain gray uniform.
The Damon Runyon characters have lost none of their snap, remaining as intriguing as ever, with gambler Sky Masterson, who never reneged on a marker, adhering to his own gentlemanly code, and "reliable" Nathan Detroit, always faithful to Adelaide, his devoted fiancee of 14 years. From General Cartwright to Arvide Abernathy to "mission doll" Sarah Brown, the do-gooders are feisty enough to be interesting, as are the inimitable Nicely Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet, Harry the Horse and Big Jule.
On Friday and Saturday, the stage at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts was filled by the chorus and orchestra with minimal front space reserved for the principals. Green moved principals around enough to avoid any hint of a static performance.
From the opening with everyone's favorite fugue, the evening promised much and delivered more. "Fugue for Tinhorns" was given royal treatment by the trio of Christopher Rhodovi as Nicely Nicely and Mario Sengco as Benny Southstreet joined by the maestro himself to produce a large exuberant sound.
In her first song, "I'll Know," Cofield's Sarah Brown seemed too operatic, making me fear that she might have been miscast as "the mission doll." Cofield soon hit her own beautiful stride, delivering an uninhibited "If I Were a Bell" and a magical "I've Never Been In Love Before" where she was joined by baritone Jason Hardy's Sky Masterson.
In his first venture beyond opera and into musical comedy, Hardy became an instant matinee idol displaying a voice of great richness, warmth and power to do full justice to "My Time of Day," "I've Never Been in Love Before," "I'll Know" and "Luck Be a Lady."
Hale was an audience-pleaser as Miss Adelaide, delivering high comic moments by trying to change the man in her life - Nathan Detroit. Hale's "Adelaide's Lament" ("A person could develop a cold!") was outstanding, as was her "Take Back Your Mink," which revealed Hale's abundant charms.
On first hearing fine Irish tenor Tom Magette transform himself into husky-voiced gambler Nathan Detroit, I thought I was witnessing a Tony-caliber performance. Later I learned that Magette was suffering from a cold that he might have caught from Adelaide, who we know is famously afflicted by one.
Kudos are due Rhodovi and Sengco for their superb singing and acting skills. Also deserving praise are Mark Miller who played Harry the Horse, Ray Landrum who was Arvide Abernathy, Craig Miller who was Big Jule and Jenni Lynn Bank who was General Cartwright.
As usual the wonderful chorus made the music sparkle, and the orchestra showed how terrific vintage musical comedy can sound when led by the right director.
Maryland Hall's Mozart Birthday Festival continues tomorrow at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. with Ballet Theatre of Maryland's Director's Choice program to include dances set to Mozart's Wedding of Figaro and Horn Concerto with a surprise classical rendition of "Three Doors Down." Tickets are available at the door.