Saturday, June 25, 2011

Our Summer Of Musicals Continues

Last night, Joshua and I and my middle brother went to Saint Paul to attend a performance of the Frank Loesser musical, “Guys And Dolls”.

The production was by The 5th Avenue Theater, a theater company in Seattle that specializes in musicals. “Guys And Dolls” was a presentation of The Ordway Center For The Performing Arts, which has sponsored Saint Paul appearances by The 5th Avenue Theater in the past. I believe there is some sort of production arrangement between The 5th Avenue Theater and The Ordway—the director of this particular staging of “Guys And Dolls” hails from the Twin Cities, and The Ordway put up a good portion of the Seattle production costs—and it appears that The Ordway likes importing one of the Seattle productions from time to time (especially in the summer months, when The Ordway’s primary residents are in the off-season).

The Ordway is a busy venue. In addition to serving as home of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Opera and The Schubert Club, the Ordway hosts several theatrical presentations each year, most of which are musicals. Some of the theatrical presentations are touring Broadway productions, some are staged by repertory companies (Minnesota repertory companies and out-of-state repertory companies), and some are productions in which the Ordway is producer, creator and originator.

The Seattle “Guys And Dolls” has a two-week stint in Saint Paul, and Josh and I and my brother caught a performance during the final weekend of the run.

We loved the show. “Guys And Dolls” is a very enduring vehicle, primarily because the songs are so good. One hit song follows another in quick succession. The quality of the songs overcomes the old-fashioned nature of the story and the book.

The Seattle production was a good one. The stage design was handsome, the choreography was excellent, the cast was fine, and the orchestral support was vigorous. It would be hard to contemplate a better contemporary mounting of this 1950 gem of the American musical theater than the production we encountered last night.

And yet the local reviews were mostly dismissive (the Pioneer Press being the exception).

The same reviewers that, unaccountably, had lavished praise upon Jungle Theater’s entirely lame production of “A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Forum” (which Josh and I and my brother had suffered through the previous Friday night) carped about the Seattle production of “Guys And Dolls” no end, finding it unimaginative and old-fashioned.

My guess is that local critics were applying one set of standards to Jungle Theater, a local company, and another set of standards to The 5th Avenue Theater, a company from out-of-town. There is nothing else that can account for such vast misjudgments about both shows.

I suspect that, in 2011, it is very hard to get the tone of “Guys And Dolls” right. The character “types” portrayed in the show no longer exist; it must be difficult for contemporary singing actors to recreate arch-types no longer visible (and no longer recognizable). The cast members in the Seattle production came about as close as one has a right to expect today.

Before the “Guys And Dolls” performance, we ate dinner at a French brasserie in downtown Saint Paul.

The restaurant was very fine—some persons insist it serves the finest French fare in the Twin Cities—and we were very pleased with our food.

We ordered broiled oysters; white asparagus soup with pancetta and almonds; and Alaska halibut. We were pressed for time, and had to skip dessert.

Asparagus soup must be in vogue. The previous Friday night, we had had asparagus soup with king crab and lime at an American restaurant in downtown Minneapolis.

We shall have to return to the Saint Paul restaurant—we liked the chef’s attitude expressed in the menu:

We are unable always to accommodate vegetarians, as most French cooking involves eggs, creams and proteins.

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