Full disclosure: I am a major musical-theater nerd.
On my first day of kindergarten, I’m told I took one look at the puppet-show setup and declared “this must be Broadway!” At age eleven, I saw a New York production of “City of Angeles” and decided that I, too wanted to sing on the Great White Way. But save for a few very, er, lucky summer camp audiences, I spent the next decade belting out the lyrics to shows like “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Carousel” and “Annie” largely before my bathroom mirror. Why do I reveal all of this? So you can understand that, while last Friday’s production of “Guys and Dolls in Concert” at the Hollywood Bowl might qualify as a run-of-the-mill entertaining night for anyone else, for me it was practically a religious experience.
For some reason—perhaps because of the “in concert” part of the title—I didn’t expect a full-blown production of the classic Frank Loesser musical. I imagined a staged reading, or a mélange of musical numbers. Instead, we were treated to a large-scale production, with staging, costumes, sets, and energy all matching what you’d expect to find at a traditional venue. Of course, the Bowl isn’t a traditional venue, and the outdoor setting made the experience all the more magical. Seeing “Luck be a Lady”—one of Broadway’s most famous numbers—performed in the moonlight, with the klieg lights cris-crossing overhead, was a revelation.
Jessica Biel, as the missionary who is wooed by gambler Sky Masterson, started off a little weak (let’s just say that high notes weren’t her strong suit), but she hit her stride during “If I Were A Bell”—playing a character who gets bombed for the first time in her life (in Havana, no less) seemed to loosen her up as a singer. While there were definitely some standout performances (Ken Page as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Herschel Sparber as Big Jule come to mind immediately) the most memorable was by Ellen Greene, who played Miss Adelaide, Nathan Detroit’s long-time, long-suffering fiancée. Greene stole 1986’s “Little Shop of Horrors” with her performance of “Suddenly Seymour,” and she did the same here, over twenty years later, with “Adelaide’s Lament,” a hilarious song about the ear-nose-and-throat health perils associated with being an “unmarried female.” Her comic timing was dead-on—she had the audience in stitches—and her voice, equal parts hilariously warbly and flat-out powerful, rang out to the riveted amphitheatre. Hey, who says dreams can’t come true?