StarStruck’s Guys and Dolls comes up aces

by Janet Grant
Tri-City Voice – August 2, 2011

The sizzle of Havana and New York City razzmatazz invaded the usually quiet Mission Hills above Fremont Friday night when StarStruck presented the classic “fable of Broadway” – “Guys and Dolls.”

Based on short stories created by Damon Runyon with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, “Guys and Dolls” is considered by many to be the perfect musical comedy. And under the brilliant leadership of Artistic Director and Producer, Lori Stokes, Starstruck’s production more than paid homage to this Broadway legend.

Performed under the stars by an exceptionally talented cast of 50 mostly teens from throughout the East Bay, StarStruck’s “Guys and Dolls” surpassed all expectations for a simple night of entertainment. From the time the curtains rose to depict the colorful milieu of 1930s New York City to the grand finale, this rousing production captivated a near packed house.

In “Guys and Dolls,” we meet loveable thugs and their long-suffering dolls. Nathan Detroit runs the “oldest established permanent floating crap game” in New York. He is desperately seeking a place to play while also striving to keep Adelaide, his fiancé of 14 years from becoming his wife. And then there’s Sarah Brown, the uptight Save-A-Soul Mission leader out to reform the evildoers of Time Square and Sky Masterson, the high-rolling gambler who tries to woo her to win a bet. And wrapped around this premise are some very familiar and toe-tapping tunes such as “Guys and Dolls,” and “Luck Be a Lady.”

It takes more than dumb luck to put on a successful musical, and all the hard work was evident in spades with the incredible company ensemble numbers such as “Havana,” “Take Back Your Mink,” and the wonderfully athletic all-male romp, “The Crapshooter’s Ballet.” These numbers and more were choreographed by the incredible Jeanne Batacan-Harper and conducted by the brilliant baton of Nancy Godfrey.

Without exception, the principal leads were outstanding. Connor Stokes was funny as ever and just as appealing as ne’er-do-well and stressed out crap game czar, Nathan Detroit. His comedic timing was spot on and some of the biggest laughs of the evening came with his one-liners and facial expressions. Karina Simpson did a fantastic turn as Nathan’s long-suffering fiancé, Adelaide. Rather dimwitted but endearing she was one hoofster who could belt it out and her “Adelaide’s Lament,” was hilarious and touching.

James M. Jones was wonderful as cool Sky Masterson, the gambler’s gambler and high roller with heart. It has been a pleasure seeing this StarStruck veteran age like fine wine. His rendition of “Luck Be a Lady,” was great and one of the nights most anticipated numbers.

Katherine Dela Cruz was perfect as prim “mission doll” and Sky’s challenging “mission.” Her fine voice was showcased in some great numbers such as “If I Were a Bell,” “I’ll Know,” and the fun duet, “Marry the Man Today.” Her comedic talents also shone through with the hilarious Havana scene.

A special mention goes to some of the other featured roles such as Drew Williams as Nicely-Nicely Johnson; Coleton Schmitto as Benny Southstreet; Trevor Meyer as Harry the Horse; Max Lerch as Big Jule; Jeremy Griffith as Lt. Brannigan; Daniel J. Harper as Arvide Abernathy; and Anastassia Tselikova as General Mathilda Cartwright. All their performances were amazing and Drew William’s and the Ensemble’s crowd pleaser “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat,” almost brought the house down.

Theatre productions can be a crap shoot, but StarStruck’s “Guys and Dolls” is aces – a definite high stakes winner by the most hardworking young theatre troupe around. A high voltage, colorful, toe-tapping musical classic filled with vivid characters, oddball romance, and great numbers and all set in a beautiful, outdoor, star-studded, awesome night venue. However you look at it – it’s magic!

Guys and Dolls
Thursday, August 4 – Saturday, August 6
Thursday, August 11 – Saturday, August 13
8 p.m.
Ohlone College Smith Center, Outdoor Amphitheatre
43600 Mission Blvd., Fremont
(510) 659-1319

Reserved seating prices range from $22-$26
The performance on Friday, August 5, will also include American Sign Language interpretation.