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Guys and Dolls

The LA Philharmonic's production of the Frank Loesser musical is surprisingly half-baked.

Brian Stokes Mitchell and Scott Bakula
in Guys and Dolls
(© Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging)
The LA Philharmonic has gambled with a fully staged production of Guys and Dolls in their gigantic arena, The Hollywood Bowl, and rolled snake eyes. In such a large environment, none of the cast members get an opportunity to bounce off each other, leading to a love story without chemistry. Plus, unless you pay for first tier seats, the actors look like blips even on the big screens that broadcast the action, leaving the subtlety of performances impossible.

The show, directed by Richard-Jay Alexander, begins on sure footing, thanks to a solid "Fugue For Tinhorns" performed by Ken Page, Jason Graae and Danny Stiles. The three easily master the famous tune; each performer is precise in their repeated lines and mines the song's comic elements. From there, however the show loses momentum. Abe Burrows' zippy lines keep falling flat, making one wish that the producers had chosen a concert-only version of Frank Loesser's celebrated songs.

As gambler Sky Masterson, Brian Stokes Mitchell projects his booming baritone voice, lending charm to "I've Never Been In Love Before." But his overall performance is strangely lackluster, and he appears disinterested in those around him. Jessica Biel appears uncomfortably stiff as missionary Sarah Brown, missing all the pathos in her character. And while she does possess a pretty voice, it's shaky at times, particularly in the upper register.

Scott Bakula brings no flavor to fellow gambler Nathan Detroit. It's a dearly humorous role -- yet Bakula plays it like he was a funeral director. Meanwhile, Ellen Greene breathily plays his longtime paramour, nightclub headliner Miss Adelaide, as if she was still doing Audrey from Little Shop Of Horrors. Her comic timing generates some laughs, but her singing is pinched and her vibrato is shot.

On the plus side, Ken Page commands the vast stage as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, the role he perfected on Broadway in 1976. He's assured and seasoned in his book scenes and walks away with the production with his evangelical take on the show-stopping "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat." Another highlight is the dancing by the Hot Box Girls, played by Jane Lanier, Sandahl Bergman, Valarie Pettiford, Tracy Powell, and Chelsea Field. Stylishly choreographed by the great Donna McKechnie, their numbers bring the production the vibrancy missing in the non-dancing scenes.

The Philharmonic sounds sassy, particularly when playing the devilish vamp of "Marry The Man Today" and the swing of "Luck Be A Lady." They constantly remind the audience that this peerless score could never be stale, even when everything else on stage seems half-baked.