Last weekend, while most of the country was celebrating Easter, I was in New York with my family, celebrating my birthday by seeing Guys and Dolls.
We rode the bus up Saturday morning, and got back Sunday night. Note: It’s hard to ride the bus two days in a row. It can be done, but still, it’s hard. The bus ride up kinda sucked, because it was raining, and our bus driver – who had made an announcement before we departed about talking on your cell phone (do it if you must, but be courteous, and quiet, try to make it quick) SPENT THE WHOLE DRIVE TALKING ON HER CELL PHONE. I shit you not. Not only that – she wasn’t even using an earpiece or a blue tooth! So, she was driving a busload of of people – in pouring down rain – with only one hand. My parents and I were so pissed. Because, in addition to that being annoying (she was planning her Easter Sunday), it’s also not safe. * Anyway. We survived the trip, and I managed to make a big dent in my book (I had brought my iPod and had to put it on halfway through – with apologies to my mother, who was my seatmate.) Unrelated, but, y’all, this book is excellent. I highly recommend it. I’d expect nothing less, because this is the dude who wrote Empire Falls, after all. The story starts slow, but after you get past the hump – SO good. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.
(*For the record – I emailed Bolt Bus about the matter yesterday, and they responded within ten minutes. Very impressive. I think that this particular driver was just an idiot, but the company as a whole is great. So, if you ever have to take a bus somewhere, consider Bolt Bus.)
My sister met us at the hotel, and we left for dinner around 5:30. Our reservation was at 5:45. For an 8 pm. curtain. I thought this was ridiculously early, but we actually got to the theater 10 minutes before the show started. Times Square was packed. I mean, even more packed than usual. My sister is so funny. She thrives on stuff like that. So, my parents and I are just trying to get through the crowd, and have to devote all our attention to this activity. Meanwhile, my sister is walking along, chatting it up, seemingly oblivious to the massive crowd around her. I wish I had that quality.
The show itself:Well, before I get into that, I have to say, we had FANTASTIC seats. We were in the third row of the balcony, center. The Nederlander isn’t that big of a theater and I could see everything perfectly. And even though we were in the balcony, it still felt really close. Major props to my dad for getting awesome seats!
The sets were incredible. I’d heard they were, but you really have to see it to get the full grasp. So were the costumes. (Though I did spent part of the show wondering how Lauren Graham and Kate Jennings Grant were making their cues – they had some FAST costume changes!) Everything was very bright and vivacious.
Okay. So. Here’s the thing: I know Guys and Dolls really, really well. I grew up listening to the 1992 revival cast recording. We did the show senior year of high school, and, seeing as it was my last show, the whole experience is still burned into my memory. (I didn’t actually realize this until the show started, and I kept on flashing back to the 1999 Damascus High School production, and my view from the tech booth). Whenever I have a soundtrack memorized, it’s hard to transition from one sound to another. And obviously, it wasn’t going to sound like Peter Gallagher, Nathan Lane and Faith Prince singing, because it’s not. Even though I knew this intellectually, it still threw me for a loop.
That being said, here’s what I thought of the cast: Kate Jennings Grant (Miss Sarah) was without a doubt the best. She had the strongest voice, the most stage presence, and was the only one who didn’t have me going, “That’s NOT what it sounds like on my album!” She was followed very closely by Craig Bierko (Sky Masterson) who has a very charming presence, and a natural ease on stage. He also a wonderful speaking voice (that’s a thing with me and guys) and a lovely singing voice. I liked him a lot. Lauren Graham (Miss Adelaide) was…well, she’s not a singer. As my sister said, she was good on the big notes, where she could belt them out, but she struggled on the smaller stuff. BUT, she was definitely doing her darnedest, and I appreciated that. (More on her in a sec.) The weakest of the four leads was, baffingly, Oliver Platt (Nathan Detroit). (He was Oliver FLATT in this performance.) I know, right? He’s Oliver Effing Platt! But, yeah. My sister and dad both commented that they just didn’t like his interpretation of Nathan Detroit, that it was too stylized. I’m not sure what it was. He looked kind of unhealthy (He’s a big guy, but you can be big and look healthy.) He looked tired. And that seeped into his performance. So, that was both shocking and disappointing.
The show itself was good. (The last word – good – should be read at a higher pitch. You know, “It was good.”) Good not great? Well, parts were great. “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” was extraordinary. (It’s always the show stopper, but still. I think the audience applauded and whistled for about two minutes afterward.) The Havana dance was excellent, as was the last half of the first act – all of the Sarah/Sky scenes. Her “If I Were a Bell” was wonderful, as was his “My Time of Day.” And of course, “I”ve Never Been In Love Before” was its usual schmoopy wonderfulness. I think the second half was stronger than the first – by a large percentage. (Except for the last part of the first half, see above.) Which is actually kind of weird, because I always liked the first half better. I enjoy those songs more. Overall, it was very enjoyable, and I’m glad I went. It was cool to see a professional production of a show I’ve loved for most of my life.
More details on Lauren Graham, because I love her, and if I’m being honest, she’s the main reason I wanted to see the show. First of all, she’s very thin in person, as well as pale. (I mean, PALE. I was pretty surprised, actually.) Those legs are still amazing. She first came out wearing hot pants, which definitely showed them off. She was a shocking blonde, as anyone who’s seen the pictures knows. As I said, she’s not a professional singer. She was better than I expected. But, “Adelaide’s Lament” (my favorite song from the show – an obvious choice, I know) was, well, I wouldn’t call it a train wreck, but it was a disappointment. (You all have to understand, the actress who sings it in the 1992 recording, Faith Prince, is like, this huge, big-time Broadway singer. She has a phenomenal voice. So…) What she did do, on those harder songs that I appreciated, was act the song rather than sing it. And hey, if she knew she couldn’t hit some of those notes, well, she was at least smart enough to not attempt them. After the first act, I told my family, “I think she’s trying too hard.” By the second act, she had calmed down a LOT, and as a result, was much better. The second act opens to this song “Take Back Your Mink”, which was one of my favorites. It’s a really funny song, and Lauren nailed it, and was hilarious. I found myself surprised at her comedic choices during the number, and then remembered, “Oh yeah…she’s funny. Lorelai was funny.” I don’t know if it’s that I hadn’t seen her in anything in so long that I’d forgotten her comedy chops, or if it was different seeing her live. Maybe both. The other song of hers I enjoyed a lot is actually the last one of the show – “Marry the Man Today.” It’s a duet between Adelaide and Sarah, and they both nailed it. (They also have a pretty long scene before the song starts, and she was great. At that point in the show, I remember thinking to myself that I’d like to see LG in a straight play, because she does have really great stage presence, and is, you know, a pretty great actor.)
Something my dad pointed out on our walk back to the hotel was that, she was really in character. Which sounds stupid to say, but it wasn’t (as he put it) “Lauren Graham doing Lorelai Gilmore doing Miss Adelaide.” Which is true. She acts her little heart out in the show, and seems to have a good time doing so. She really is Miss Adelaide, and she’s not a big name actress winking at the audience, as if to say, “HEY LOOK AT ME, I’M IN A PLAY!” She adopted this very low New York accent (which also threw me at first, because Faith Prince has naturally a very high voice) which didn’t falter the entire show, even when she was singing. (Which, as my sister and I agreed, might have been part of the reason the singing was just average.)
After the show ended, Lauren made an announcement about donating to Broadway Cares and her voice was really hoarse. That doesn’t really mean anything, except that it’s easy to forget, seeing actors on stage, that they are actually people, and would, of course, have a hoarse voice after being on stage for 3 hours. (And also, I’m really glad I read somewhere that they were taking donations, because it’s a really great organization, so I was prepared and brought money. Click on the link above and donate, if you can.) As I said, overall I really enjoyed the performance. It was cool to see one of my favorite actresses on stage, and an experience I don’t think will come around very often. Upon reflection, I kind of want to go see it again, for two reasons. First, because now that I’ve seen it once, I won’t be all, “Hey, look, it’s Lauren Graham!” (Which, yes, I was, for a little bit, even though I tried not to be.) Second, as a friend who saw the Saturday matinee pointed out, the show is still really fresh, and it would be interesting to see it in a few months, when they’ve all calmed down and settled into the roles. I’m not sure my wallet can afford that, but it’s something I’ll be looking into.
Video of the Day: Here is Lauren on David Letterman a few months ago, promoting the show. I’m not sure why I thought she had cut and dyed her hair, but I’m kinda relived to know she’s still the same old dark Irish gal I know.