Theatre Review: “Guys and Dolls” with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Photo by Leah Love - “Dice Isn’t Just a Game; It’s a Way of Life”

Last Sunday afternoon I judged an Encore show in Beech Grove.  Then I drove downtown to see “Guys & Dolls In Concert” with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra.

I had bought my ISO ticket on a whim, so there wasn’t time to try to establish a relationship with the ISO’s marketing person, which means I don’t have a publicity photo to go with this post.  I chose the photo above from’s “Creative Commons” because “Guys and Dolls” is about gambling. 

Who knew?

Yes, I was probably the only theatre reviewer on the planet who not only had never seen a production of “Guys and Dolls” before but also did not have any idea what it was about.  All I knew was that a friend who knows a lot about musical theatre hinted that I would enjoy this production, and then Lou Harry, arts editor for the Indianapolis Business Journal, said to me, “You are going to see ‘Guys and Dolls’ at the ISO aren’t you?”  In a moment of madness, then, I added this show to my already over-booked weekend.

I am very, very glad I did!  It was a wonderful show.  A rare treat.

I had thought it was just going to be various singers taking turns standing behind a music stand and singing songs with the orchestra behind them.  I had thought that since I didn’t already know the show, I would feel lost.

But it wasn’t like that at all!  It was what I think of as a real show: there was a poignant, hilarious story with complex characters about whom I came to care deeply*; there were lavish costumes*; there was witty dancing*; and yes, there was music*.  Gorgeous, tummy-releasing, make-me-cry music delivered by exceptional instrumentalists and vocalists through a blissfully pristine sound system.

I was surprised to find that I did already know one song from the show.  My mother used to sing “I love you a bushel and a peck” to me when I was a child.  I wish she could have been at this show with me last Sunday, but I was glad to be reminded of her in this way.

I decided that I am more like Sky Masterson than Sarah Brown in my approach to love.  She sings “I’ll know” her love when she meets him because she has figured out exactly what she wants in a man.  She is not a gambler and her love will not be, either.  Or so she thinks. 

Masterson sings that he does not have a plan, that he leaves his love life up to chance and chemistry.  He is a gambler and proud of it.  He sings that he’ll know when his love comes along because he won’t have to ask if he’s right or wrong about it.  He’ll just know.

Actually, I don’t know if I’ll know when my next true love comes along.  After all, I develop new crushes every time I go to the theatre.  However, I like to think that I am as open as Sky Masterson to surprise.

In any case, the chemistry between Sky Masterson (Hugh Panaro) and Sarah Brown (Ashley Brown) was just right.  When they finally kissed…oh, my, it made me swoon!

And I laughed out loud again and again whenever Adelaide (Megan Lawrence) was on stage.

The cast included many stars from Broadway and Hollywood as well as gifted local artists.  Actually, I’d like to refer you to Lou Harry’s two blog posts about the cast.  I don’t usually do that, but I love the way he expressed, in this case, exactly what I felt.  I have not been able to figure out how to link to his posts directly, so please go here to his blog, look at the little calendar to the left of his posts, and click on Friday, October 10, 2008 and Tuesday, October 14, 2008.

The only things that kept the ISO’s production of “Guys and Dolls” from being a “regular” show was the fact that most of the actors with speaking parts carried scripts (but they read beautifully!) and the fact that the set was very minimal (but the lighting* was eloquent and the staging* was an essential and effective part of the storytelling!)  There were some huge dice sprinkled around, and a signpost at stage left told us we were at the corner of Times & 47th Street, but mostly the stage was empty except for a few well-placed chairs.

And, of course, the huge orchestra. 

I loved watching them warm up.  Also, in the rare moments when I wasn’t caught up in the story, I loved watching them play, the percussionists in particular.  

In fact, even if the show itself hadn’t been excellent, it was fascinating just to be back at the Symphony.  I know I had been there before, but it had literally been decades.  I can’t tell you what I heard the last time.

I was surprised to see that the female musicians are now allowed to wear black pants with their white blouses.  They are no longer required to wear long, black skirts.  I guess I felt glad that the women now have more options, but I also felt a little sad.  In any case, I was glad to see that the male musicians are still yummy in their tuxes.

I had forgotten how beautiful the inside of the building is.  The walls and ceiling remind me of cameo jewelry.

The conductor, Jack Everly, leaped onto his podium with a grin and acknowledged our applause in a way that made me believe he was delighted to be there.  His joy was infectious even before he raised his baton.

My seat was in the front row of the second balcony – not the balcony where you have to worry about your program fluttering down onto the people below, but the balcony that is a few rows behind that.  The ledge was just right for propping up my notebook.

During intermission, the man sitting next to me asked if I were a journalist, which made my night.  I explained that I was a blogger.  I gave him my card.  I wish I had thought to ask him for even just his first name, because I really enjoyed talking with him about the other productions of “Guys and Dolls” that he had seen.  He told me that his favorite song, “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat” was coming up in the second act. 

(And sure enough, it was a great song, especially with Arvide Abernathy’s (Hal Linden’s) clarinet solo and the rock-the-house energy of Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Joe Cassidy) and the rest of the ensemble!)

The reason I didn’t ask him his name, though, was because I was afraid he would tell me that I couldn’t write about the most intriguing part of our conversation.  He and his wife go to a lot of shows that are open to the public, but they also belong to something called the Players’ Club. 

It is limited to a certain number of members.  In the rare event that one of the couples moves away or something, new members have to be invited and voted on by the remaining members.  For years, the group has been meeting quarterly to put on shows in a local theatre just for themselves, just for fun.  After each show they all put on black tie formal wear and have a catered dinner.

What a great idea for a secret club!

He asked me what I was going to write about the ISO’s production of “Guys and Dolls.”

“I’m going to say it’s wonderful!” I said.

“Yes,” he agreed.  “The talent in this show is outstanding.”

I leaped to my feet to applaud at the end and floated all the way home.

Hope Baugh –

* Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser.  Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, based on short stories by Damon Runyon.

* Costumes designed by Clare Henkel.

* Choreography by Jen Ladner.

* Staging by David Levy.  Jacob Brent was the assistant for staging and choreography.

* Ruth Hutson designed the lights.

* Jack Everly was the music director and conductor.  (My program also says that Mario Venzago is the Music Director and that Jack Everly is the Principal Pops Conductor, with Raymond Leppard as the Conductor Laureate.)  Chorus and vocal direction by Fred Barton.

2 thoughts on “Theatre Review: “Guys and Dolls” with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra”

  1. I wish you would have wrote more about the show this time since I didnt get to see it =( I’ve heard it was great though! Also wanted you to know your IBJ links arent linking to want you say they do….not sure how to fix it.

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