PlayMakers’ Summer Youth Conservatory debuted “Guys and Dolls” last week at the Paul Green Theatre, with shows running through July 25. Directed by PlayMakers Associate Artistic Director Jeffrey Meanza and choreographed by Matthew Steffens, the “Musical Fable of Broadway” features a large cast comprised of high-school aged actors from around the Triangle.
It’s a good thing, too, that the cast is large — based in the 1930s in New York City and telling the tale of traveling craps promoter Nathan Detroit (Ethan Fox), who gambles his 14-year engagement to showgirl Miss Adelaide (Ainsley Seiger), his civil freedom and tens of thousands of dollars in addition to petty cash in dice games, “Guys and Dolls” is as grand of a show as any. But simply making New York feel grand is nothing extraordinary; “Guys and Dolls” goes above and beyond by making New York truly feel alive.
The show begins all at once, with the dull mumblings of the city quickly growing to a shout as subway doors give way to city-folk hustling across the stage, painted in the likeness of a New York subway map. A giant “Roxy” marquee sign dazzles in fluorescence directly next to the band, stationed above the action, as they set the tempo of the show at just shy of a sprint. Men rush past the newspaper stand in coats and ties on their way to work; a sandwich board-clad man foretells the end of days; volunteers for the mission pass out pamphlets to audience members who find themselves pleasantly surprised with their cameo.
Meanza is keen to place his actors in the crowd repeatedly over the course of the play. When the showgirls are dancing, Miss Adelaide prances gleefully into the crowd on more than one occasion; in one ensemble scene, a drunkard clinching a brown bag offers his drink to an amused onlooker in the audience. This breaking down of the fourth wall, paired with soaring musical numbers, energetic choreography and an impressive retracting stage inject the play with life in every scene.