GUYS AND DOLLS is full of talent and heart

September 27, 2019
By Rebecca Edwards

Guys and Dolls. Three small words can muster an iconic image in anyone’s mind.  Virginia Stage Company’s season opening production emulates the iconic status.  It is full of talent, memorable interpretations, and heart.

Nicolas Minas has successfully managed to rise to the hype the title inspires. His vision for the story of love and risk during prohibition-era New York City is clear.  He transports us to a time when a man could make a living by street gambling and a woman could discover herself and her freedom through Burlesque dancing all while a Christian missionary will fight to save souls from their soapbox on the corner. 

Photo by Samuel W. Flint. Pictured_ James T Lane, Casey Shuler, and Ensemble

As patrons enter the theatre, the first thing they see is a giant red curtain closed on the stage with classic vaudeville lights setting the theme.  Minas embraces the history of the Wells Theatre and makes it a character in and of itself in the production. The music begins, the curtain opens, and the audience is transported to late night shenanigans via a simple and effective set designed by scenic designer David Shuhy. He manages the intimate space by using both sides of set pieces to convey places from a Burlesque Club to a Christian Mission to a dance club in Havana to the underground sewers of New York City.  Christina Wantanbe’s lighting is the perfect complement to Shuhy’s design. My favorite scene is “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” James T. Lane’s performance as Nicely-Nicely Johnson in this number is a stand out. I love the way he plays with the spotlight and reacts for the audience to see without breaking the character plane. His entire performance is spectacular and a highlight of the show. His chemistry and harmonies with his partner in crime, Benny Southstreet, played by Darius Nelson, is one of the best things about the production.  Their duet “Guys & Dolls” showcases their incredible talent superbly.

Photo by Samuel W. Flint. Pictured_ James T. Lane, Darius Nelson

Another fantastic duet is “Adelaide Meets Sarah” performed by Jessica Lee Goldyn as Miss Adelaide and Casey Shuler as Sarah Brown.  For me, Shuler’s vocal performances most of the night were distracting. She felt like an odd choice vocally for Sarah’s no-nonsense character.  In this song though, she shows her vocal range and control as she holds back on the high-pitch nasally sound that detracted from her singing performance most of the night. You expect that kind of sound to come from Miss Adelaide not Sarah.  Her performance with Goldyn during this duet was filled with emotion that could be seen, felt, and heard. Goldyn’s interpretation of Miss Adelaide was spot on. Her comedic timing was impeccable, and her strong vocals were perfectly suited to this iconic role.

Photo by Samuel W. Flint Pictured_ James T. Lane, Darius Nelson, Ray Dimaano

Other facets of the production that stand out include the live orchestra.  Their skill and flair added a higher level to the interpretation of the show.  It was the perfect balance to Jordan Dunlap’s incredible choreography. This production is dance heavy and the ensemble made the whole evening look easy. 

Photo by Samuel W. Flint. Pictured Jessica Lee Goldyn

I was surrounded by patrons who obviously had an appreciation for this classic musical.  Listening to strangers talk and bond over comparisons of Sam Simahk to Marlon Brando or the visuals of the stage show compared to the classic movie was inspiring.  I had the pleasure of bringing a woman I call Mom to the performance with me. She couldn’t get enough of the whole experience. Days later she still talks about the performance and how much she enjoyed it!  She loved the two leading men, Brian Ray Norris as Nathan Detroit and Sam Simahk as Sky Masterson. I whole-heartedly agree with her! Norris’ portrayal of Nathan was impressive. He was able to create a man you knew you needed to dislike but couldn’t help but find him to be a great big ole teddy bear.  He successfully maintained the macho man façade with his boys and lovestruck fool with his doll. His chemistry with Goldyn during “Sue Me” was special. You couldn’t help but feel all of the emotion they were expressing on stage and root for their relationship to win. 

Photo by Samuel W. Flint. Pictured Brian Ray Norris and Sam Simahk

Simahk’s Masterson was remarkable.  His velvet voice was splendid! He had an air about him that oozed suave and sophisticated.  He looked sharp in the wardrobe Jenny Schaffer created as the costume designer. It’s like the suits had a personality of their own!  Simahk ‘s successful interpretation of “Luck Be A Lady” was filled with confidence, angst, desperation, and triumph. 

Photo by Samuel W. Flint. Pictured_ Sam Simahk _ Casey Shuler

As the curtain fell and the lights rose, you knew VSC has something special in this production.  The theatre was abuzz with commentary as people were leaving the venue. The general feeling was one of complete enjoyment.  You’re missing out if you don’t make time to see this phenomenal production that is playing through Sunday October 6th.