‘Lucky’ night in store for audiences at HVRHS
With this winter threatening to remain miserable all the way into April, wouldn’t a little shot of sunny Havana, Cuba, be just the thing? The Housatonic Valley Regional High School Musical Theatre Society is happy to oblige, with a spring musical that has a pivotal scene set in Cuba (pre-Castro, in case that matters to you). The show, as musical theater buffs will guess right away, is “Guys and Dolls.” The producer for the show is Lori Belter and the director once again is Michael Berkeley, who is also artistic director at TriArts at the Sharon Playhouse. Berkeley loves coaching young singer/dancer/actors almost as much as he loves the musical theater genre, and in his eight years of working with the high school’s musical theater company he has coaxed remarkable performances out of his amateur casts. Anyone with doubts need only check out the YouTube videos of the hilarious and lively production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” from 2007; type in “Tiernan O’Rourke-Everybody Ought To Have a Maid.”This year, all the elements are in place for another memorable YouTube worthy show. First, who couldn’t love “Guys and Dolls,” a classic of American musical theater in which nearly every song is a hummable showstopper? Even those who haven’t seen the show (or don’t remember it) have probably heard the most famous numbers, including “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” “Adelaide’s Lament” (known to some as the song about how a person can develop a cold) and “Take Back Your Mink.” The characters are memorable, colorful and quotable. They highstep out of the pages of Damon Runyon’s classic short stories about gamblers and the women (and dice games) they love in Prohibition-era New York City. Suave and handsome Sky Masterson is the hero of this tale of the Manhattan underworld.He’s a gambler who falls irreparably in love with a prim, tough Salvation Army-style anti-gambling crusader. In the movie version, he was played by Marlon Brando (who knew he could sing so nicely?); his love interest was Jean Simmons. But the truly great pair in that and every production of “Guys and Dolls” is Nathan Detroit (who swears he’s going to give up gambling and make his girlfriend an honest woman) and ever-loving Adelaide (who’s so heartbroken from 14 years of waiting for her engagement to turn into marriage that she’s developed a permanent chest cold). In the movie they were played by Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine; on Broadway, they were most recently played by Nathan Lane and Faith Prince. At Housatonic, Nathan will be played by Kai Haaland of Lakeville and Adelaide will be brought to life by local theater veteran Ellie Yahn of Sharon. The lead roles are played by Michael Kenny of Sharon, also a veteran of many shows on school stages as well as at TriArts; and Housatonic freshman Jillian Cannon of Falls Village. Altogether, there are 36 students either performing or working on sets, lighting, costumes and other aspects of the production.As with any show, the supporting cast and crew can make or break the production. Professional-caliber backup (in addition to Berkeley’s direction, choreography and music direction) comes from community members including Joel Brehm, who is in charge of the technical aspects and the set (“The sets pivot for fast scene changes,” Berkeley said. “I think you should never make the audience wait for a scene change.”)Dylan Baker, a Salisbury tae kwan do teacher, is choreographing the scenes that involve brawls and fisticuffs. During a rehearsal last week, he added layer upon layer of visual interest to the Cuban bar/dance/brawl scene by teaching the students to pretend to hit each other in ways that were spontaneous, believable and surprisingly funny.Author Betsy Howie of Falls Village, who used to work with famed acting teacher Stella Adler, is helping each of the actors, including and even especially the ensemble members, to “find” their character. “The chorus isn’t just a chorus,” Berkeley said. “Everyone has to do something. They have to have fully dimensional lives fleshed out.”Robert Clohessy, a parent of a Housatonic student, is also an accomplished actor who has appeared (often as a cop or a tough) in everything from “All My Children” and “Guiding Light” to “NYPD Blue,” “Oz” and “Law and Order.”“He’s working with them on their accents and the New York street tough dialect,” Berkeley said.The street tough dialect of the early 20th century, that is. The characters in the world of Damon Runyon had a distinctly different way of speaking than do, say, the characters of the world of Tony Soprano. “That’s part of the fun of doing a high school show,” Berkeley said. “It’s a history lesson, too. We had to study the world of 1940s New York, we have to learn how people dressed and talked, we had to learn about Prohibition. A lot of the stores and restaurants that are mentioned in the dialogue and songs no longer exist. We had to talk about what it means to get a meal at the automat.”They even put together a game of craps, Berkeley said somewhat apologetically. “They had to learn what street craps meant to these guys, and why they had such an intense desire to keep the game ‘floating.’”Berkeley grows more and more animated as he discusses the work he and the students are doing together, and the fun of watching them learn things about life, the world and the theater that might otherwise have begun to seem old hat to an experienced actor/director/dancer/singer.“We want a great show,” he said. “But it’s the process that’s the best part of it. We want these kids to have a memorable experience. It’s about learning about the world of the theater, but really, it’s about so much more.”The Housatonic Musical Theatre Society production of “Guys and Dolls” will be presented at Housatonic Valley Regional High School on March 17, 18 and 19 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students. On Friday, March 18, balcony seating costs only $5. Tickets are available at area businesses; for information, go online to hmts. org.