You Great, Big, Beautiful Guy & Doll
Brian Tom O'Connor and Debra Vogel walk together along the fine line that separates musical theater and cabaret.
Cabaret and musical theater are closer than kissing cousins, as proven by Guy & Doll, currently playing at Don't Tell Mama. This elegantly crafted show stars two musical theater character actors, Brian Tom O'Connor as The Guy and Debra Vogel as The Doll. It's an act with a sharply defined musical comedy sensibility that takes the audience through the cycle of romantic relationships.
The act's bread and butter is the mixing and matching of songs from different Broadway shows, as O'Connor and Vogel create a series of little musical comedy playlets. One of Guy & Doll's most inspired groupings begins with "Take a Job" (Styne/Comden & Green) from Do-Re-Mi, in which a shrewish Vogel insists that her lollygaging husband, O'Connor, give up his pipe dreams of success and go to work for her father. The two stars are funny, touching, and totally in character. Then comes the first payoff, as O'Connor follows up with a poignant "The Man I Used to Be" (by Rodgers & Hammerstein, from Pipe Dream). And still the story continues as Vogel comically comments, "I Wanted to Change Him" (Styne/Comden & Green again, from Hallelujah, Baby!). Finally, for dessert, O'Connor & Vogel duet on "Cherry Pies Ought to be You" (Cole Porter, from Out of This World). That last song, rarely performed in cabaret -- largely because most cabaret acts are solo affairs -- is sensational, and Vogel and O'Connor do it extremely well.
Coming from another cabaret act that ran late, we arrived at Guy & Doll during the show's second number. Nonetheless, we quickly discovered that not all of the set-ups and songs were derived from famous musicals; for instance, in a dating scene set in a restaurant, O'Connor sings of his love of "Frim Fram Sauce" (Joe Ricardel/Redd Evans). We have not come across a more inspired use of that comic nonsense song, originally made famous by the Nat King Cole Trio.
Vogel is at her best when she's playing a lowbrow character; she can put on an amusing Brooklyn accent or act the tough broad with comic panache. When she sings a straight ballad, however, her voice can sound shrill and off-pitch. O'Connor is the more consistent of the two. He's a versatile and winning character actor, as poignant as he is funny, and he really knows how to milk a gag. While his singing voice isn't entirely reliable, it's always rather sweet.
The musical director of the show is Darryl Curry, the director is Elfin Frederick; both deserve credit for helping to arrange the music and fine-tune the structure of this endearing and enjoyable musical comedy cabaret. You have two more chances to see Guy and Doll at Don't Tell Mama: Monday, October 21 at 7pm, and Saturday, October 26 at 6:30pm.