June 21, 2012 —
Summertime provides entertainment opportunities throughout the Upper Delaware valley, and there are live stage shows popping up all over. Among them, both the Forestburgh Playhouse (FBP) and the Sullivan County Dramatic Workshop (SCDW) opened their doors for the season this past week.
The first show on the bill for the FBP is Frank Loesser’s “musical fable,” “Guys and Dolls.” Based on stories and characters written by Damon Runyon, with the show’s book written by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, “Guys” takes a peek into the world of gamblers, sinners, showgirls and saviors in the late 1940s.
Having enjoyed a successful run on Broadway in its debut, the musical has been revived repeatedly and was translated to the silver screen in 1955, starring Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine. Forestburgh’s production has plenty of guys and dolls, but if I had to place bets on which gender wins the opening gambit, my money is on the men. Dan Fenaughty (as Sky Masterson) gives a solid performance as the ne’er-do-well who falls for the most unlikely doll, Sarah Brown, (Elana Jillian Abt) and his strong voice and affable charm do justice to songs like “ I’ll Knowâ€ and “Luck be a Ladyâ€ as the story unfolds.
Robert Anthony Jones and Zachary Bencal (as Nathan Detroit and Nicely Nicely, respectively) were both outstanding and each had golden moments on stage. Jones’ comic timing is stellar, and his duet with fiancee Adelaide (“Sue Meâ€) stands out, assisted by LoriAnn Freda, who gives a competent, if unsurprising interpretation of Runyon’s colorful, wildly exaggerated singing doll.
Although both the male and female chorus were on point with the lively, hummable score, which includes memorable tunes “Havana,”“The Oldest Established” and the play’s title song, it’s still “all in” for the guys. Shining above them all is Bencal, whose hilarious performance as Nicely Nicely Johnson not only elevates this production each and every time he is on stage, but his rendition of the show stopping “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” is beyond fabulous. Bencal’s amazing vocal ability, paired with a flawless stage presence, (aided and abetted by nice staging from artistic supervisor Ron Nash and resident director Kevin Confoy) is single-handedly responsible for making this show work.
Great tunes, plenty of laughs and Runyon’s cartoonish characters all combine to make “Guys and Dolls” a lot of fun, and provide long-time patrons and newcomers alike an opportunity to experience the high octane entertainment that the playhouse has to offer. Since “Legally Blonde, The Musical” is on the docket, I’m looking forward to seeing what the company’s dolls have up their sleeves. This one goes to the guys, hands down.
For reservations, visit www.FBPlayhouse.org  or call 845/794-1194.
Over at the Rivoli Theatre in South Fallsburg, the SCDW has produced a favorite rarely seen in the Catskills: “The Fantasticks.” Aside from several familiar songs written by Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, “The Fantasticks” has the unique distinction of being “the worlds longest running musical” (The show's original off-Broadway production ran a total of 42 years).
A charming story that borrows liberally from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,”“The Fantasticks” has feuding parents, second-rate actors, a dashing hero and the requisite star-crossed lovers, with a mime thrown in for good measure. Director Sally Gladden takes advantage of the show’s devices-a sparse set and a seemingly bottomless trunk full of props, which gives the production’s glittering score the opportunity to shine.
The cast, Hayley Cosgrove, Jim Sullivan, Marissa Cohen, Chris Sheridan, Allen Eckers, Heather Strauss, Harold Tighe and Mike Washburn, is a bit of a mixed bag, with some performers more on the mark than others. Sullivan’s El Gallo is a subtler rendition of the character than I’ve seen in the past, and a bit more machismo and swagger would have gone a long way, as the character should ooze a sexy, dark demeanor that was missing for me.
The teenaged lovers, Matt and Luisa (Sheridan and Cohen) both have lyrical voices and sounded pretty, but lacked a stage presence that perhaps, comes with maturity. In an interesting twist, the parents (traditionally both fathers) were mom and pop in this version, and director Gladden’s decision to recast worked seamlessly. Straus’ interpretation of Bell was fun and tuneful, which helped elevate Eckers’ efforts to keep up, both musically and comically.
Harold Tighe’s Shakespearean buffoon was his best performance to date and his sidekick (played by Washburn) amused as well. The music is undoubtedly the star of this production, and lesser known songs like “Much More,” “They Were You” and “Soon it’s Gonna Rain,” somehow eclipsed the show’s signature tune, El Gallo’s “Try to Remember.” All in all, the production succeeds, with much of the credit given to the book and score. My hat’s off, however, to the SCDW for presenting “The Fantasticks” to begin with, since it’s legacy is strong and audiences unfamiliar with this lovely show now have an opportunity to experience it in the refurbished Rivoli, which is also well worth a visit. For reservations, visit www.scdw.net  or call 845/436-5336