Friday, Dec. 17, 2010

Rocking The Boat With Off The Wall

Guys, Dolls, Nicely, Nicely, a Piano and a Thrust Stage

By Russ Bickerstaff
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I tend to think of Guys amd Dolls as a staggeringly uneven musical. Some of the songs are awful. Some are timeless classics. Some of the story is appallingly bad. Some of it is brilliantly written. When the machinery of any production is fit around the uneven blueprint laid down by Loesser, Swerling and Burrows, the results can be . . . a bit of a crapshoot.

One of the biggest things Off The Wall Theatre has going for it with respect to its production of Guys and Dolls (which opened earlier this week) is the intimacy of the tiny studio theatre space. A narrow walkway winds out into the front of the audience at right angles, posing interesting challenges to the choreography in numerous places. Sometimes the choreography works. Sometimes it doesn't. It is used to its greatest effect near the end of the second act.

I can’t honestly say that I ever hated the song “Sit Down You’re Rocking The Boat.” That being said, I never really liked it before. Not until last night. Musical Director Matt Zebrowski sits at the piano as Nicely Nicely. And the stage is filled with people. And Zembrowski cascades into the single most enjoyable song of the production (and, quite possibly the single most enjoyable staging of a song in Milwaukee musical theatre so far this season.) The energy flows through the choreography onstage and out into the audience via the walkway. Dancer Dane Bauman serves as a rhythmic focal point for a really well-composed mass of dancing onstage animated by an effortlessly stylish performance of the song by Zembrowski.

There are a couple of songs after that one, but the high point has already been reached. It’s one of those uneven bits about the composition of the musical . . . and it’s brought to the stage by everyone here so well with overwhelmingly rhythmic choreography that I almost doesn’t seem to matter that “Sit Down,” is at least as good as the rest of the show combined . . .

Off The Wall’s Guys and Dolls runs December 15th through 31st. Call 414-327-3552 for tickets. A comprehensive review of the show will run in next week’s Shepherd-Express/

It’s kind of a weird week for me. Last night I saw Guys and Dolls with Off The Wall Downtown. Tomorrow night I see Guys and Does with American Folklore Theatre in Oconomowoc.  

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