Lower Dauphin Takes a Gamble But Brings the Laughs

Review: Lower Dauphin’s ‘Guys & Dolls’ in High School Musical Week No. 2

Lower Dauphin Takes a Gamble But Brings the Laughs

Caleb Steindel

Since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, live theatre has suffered greatly. Shows closed mid-run, casts and crews lost jobs, and musical junkies resigned themselves to Disney+ recordings and YouTube bootlegs. Now, though, live theatre is almost in full swing once again, the Central Pennsylvania scene is alive and well.

Each year prior to 2020, the Hershey Theatre has hosted the annual Apollo Awards, a Tony’s-style awards show for high school productions in the area. With the Apollo Awards returning in May for the first time since 2019, HawkEye Media’s Caleb Steindel will review many of the Central PA high school musicals registered to be evaluated. He also will offer his own predictions.

Hershey Theatre Apollo Awards Facebook page
Hershey Theatre Apollo Awards website

Week #2 of high school musical season took place at the outset of March, and while plenty of schools are going with the classic choices of The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music, Lower Dauphin High School took on the underrated, risky, and somewhat unknown comedy Guys & Dolls. Set during the Depression in Times Square, New York City, the story by Loesser, Swerling, and Burrows follows the lives of Manhattan gamblers, their relationships with women, and their love of illegal betting. Nathan Detroit has been engaged to his performer fiancee, Adelaide, for 14 years, and Sky Masterson meets the missionary, Sarah Brown, during the course of the show. These two dynamic couples drive the plot of this hysterical, upbeat, dance-filled, action-packed classic. Lower Dauphin High School staged three performances of this Damon Runyon adaptation on March 3, 4, and 5.

At its core, Guys & Dolls is unquestionably and unashamedly American by design, a fact that is reflected in everything from costumes to character development to scenery. The tough, 1920s New York setting provides the perfect backdrop for each character’s ambition and pursuit of success and the American dream. The theme of love also permeates every line and lyric, as the characters ultimately learn that any relationship at all is a gamble of its own. Lower Dauphin’s production, however, focused on a rather specific angle of the story. Directed by the longstanding legend Kevin Strawser, the show had a clear central focus on comedy from start to finish. Admittedly, the tale is choc-full of funny moments – the audience was howling with laughter at some point in virtually every scene – but Strawser’s vision seemed to include an even heavier emphasis on humor than usual. At times, this was to the story’s detriment. Characters stuck to their quirks and vocal inflections so religiously that soft, emotional moments were occasionally missed. The story was sufficiently hysterical and well-told if not always heartfelt at the appropriate times.

The core four of LD’s Guys & Dolls is played by a quartet of talented students that includes three seniors and a junior. It is anchored by Donovan McDonald, the charismatic senior who was born to entertain. He portrays Nathan Detroit, a big-name gambler that runs an illegal floating craps game wherever he can. McDonald does not lack stage presence or personality, and his line delivery and comedic timing are impeccable. His accent is more of a wannabe New Jersey than a classic Manhattan, and he can slip into a whiny, monotone voice from time to time, but he more than makes up for it with his comedic charm. On the other hand, his fiancee absolutely nails the Bronx vocals. Nathan Detroit’s love interest, Adelaide, is played by senior Cadence Kanode, and she really brings out the roots of her character from start to finish. Not only is she a believable New Yorker, but her gorgeous alto vocals and strong belting ability are perhaps the highlights of the show. She plays the distressed and disconcerted lover well. However, both McDonald and Kanode sadly tend to avoid the more intimate, romantic moments of their relationship by covering them with excess comedy.

Senior Jack Wolfe portrays Sky Masterson, the confident, charming gambler. Wolfe’s deliverance can be stilted and rigid at times, but he brings solid vocals and an appropriate level of swagger to the role, albeit with not much of a believable accent. Audrey Meyers, the one junior out of the four leads, plays Sarah Brown, the devoutly religious missionary who catches Masterson’s eye. Meyers has an absolutely gorgeous mezzo-soprano voice, mature beyond her years. She navigates effortlessly navigates her songs, especially “If I Were A Bell,” and she effectively conveys the confusion and indecision of a devout Christian who has fallen in love with a godless man. One downfall of her performance is that her operatic-style singing causes some of her words to be unfortunately missed, but her talent is undeniable.

The supporting cast ensemble features a plethora of outstanding characters. My personal favorite, Nicely-Nicely Johnson, is played by Timothy Fausnight, an actor who brings effortless, almost nonchalant comedy to his role. Fausnight’s hysterical trope is constantly eating different food items in every scene. Furthermore, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat” is Nicely-Nicely’s massive second act solo, and it can make or break the entire show, but Fausnight navigates the vocals with ease. Hudson Millar as Big Jule isn’t the show’s greatest actor, but his gruff and intimidating exterior fits perfectly into the role. Finally, Andrew King’s portrayal of Arvide Abernathy brings a happy level of charm and emotion to the show. What he lacks in tremendous vocal ability, he makes up for with his heartwarming, fatherly attitude towards Sarah Brown.

Despite the humor and beautiful vocals, the costumes are one of the most effective elements of the show, particularly in how they convey the time period and location. From the gamblers’ uppity suits to the frilly and flamboyant dresses of Adelaide’s dancers, one is transported to Times Square in the 1920s through Lower Dauphin’s production. The set is simplistic for the most part. The primary location is established by a massive curtain backdrop with drawings of Broadway theaters, while scene changes are indicated with simple building setups and a few simple benches when necessary, but not much else is needed. The mission interior is especially eye-catching, with numerous comedic religious posters sprinkled throughout.

In a high school musical season marked by an overabundance of customary shows, Lower Dauphin deserves lots of credit for tackling this rarely-used show. The swelling ensemble numbers, the constant comedy, and the soloists’ beautiful vocals propel this show to fantastic heights. It is certainly not perfect – one-dimensional line deliveries, missed emotional moments, and confusing accents create a few stumbling blocks. But their success is undeniable, and a handful of Apollo Award nominations should be on the horizon for this school.

APOLLO NOMINATION PREDICTIONS
Outstanding Musical
Outstanding Dance Number in a Musical: The Crapshooters’ Dance
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical: Donavan McDonald as Nathan Detroit
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical: Audrey Meyers as Sarah Brown
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical: Cady Kanode as Miss Adelaide
Honorable Mention for Outstanding Featured Performer in a Musical: Timothy Fausnight as Nicely-Nicely Johnson