In an era filled with economic uncertainty, ISIS and Donald Trump, most of us could use a two-hour happy escape to a simpler time. That’s how I’d describe Napa Valley College’s rousing production of the classic musical “Guys and Dolls.”
Actually, it’s fairer to describe it as a college and community production, bringing together the best of the college and the people of Napa.
To pick an utterly nonrandom example (bias alert), my wife, Barbara Nemko, gives credence to the old saw: There are no small parts, only small actors. Of course, Barbara had an edge being The Boss in her day job — she’s the Napa County superintendent of schools. But whatever the reason, even though she’s a Jewish girl from the Bronx, she was so good as the Save-A-Souls General that it almost made me want to attend a prayer meeting.
But lest my bias not be too extreme, there is much credit to go around. Top of the list has to be the directors: the stage director Reed Martin, musical director Dr. Eve-Anne Wilkes, choreographer Pam Rogers, and stage manager Jenn Ruygt. It is incomprehensible to this reviewer how anyone could put together this near-Broadway-caliber production with all volunteer actors and crew.
For example, most college-level musicals drag on to close to three hours, with interminable breaks between scenes to change the scenery and props. Not this production: two hours and 15 minutes including an intermission. Chop-chop crisp!
Speaking of amazing all-volunteer actors, atop the list has to be Jenny Veilleux. I challenge anyone to find — even at a $100/ticket theater — a more entertaining Adelaide, who keeps trying to believe her fiance’s promise that they’ll marry, even though it’s already been 14 years of engagement. Jenny teaches third grade in Napa and I’d give her an A in acting, A+ in singing, and OK, a B+ in dancing. I do hope she directs plays with her school’s students.
Next has to be Jessica Romero, who played Nicely Nicely Johnson, a literally and figuratively larger-than-life lovable gangster. She steals the show with her performance of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” in which she inspires not only the gangsters but the aforementioned general of the Save-a-Soul Mission to devolve into a paroxysm of religious frenzy.
Often, college productions fall apart when you get to the smaller roles. Not this one. A particular standout is Dan Monez, former Napa police chief who touchingly plays and sings the role of Arvide Abernathy, the wise mentor.
The Hot Box Girls and the ensemble, missionaries and gangsters alike, sang beautifully and danced with abandon. Great!
Oh, yes, and then there’s the story. No, it’s not “War and Peace.” It’s not even “Sound of Music.” It’s just a nice story. That’s where we really get to the simpler times:
The Bad Guys aren’t beheading anyone or burning them alive in cages. All they’re trying to do is to find a place to play craps before Lieutenant Brannigan breaks up the game.
The main subplot isn’t about fat-cat politicians manipulating the electorate. It’s about a not-so-mean gangster, Sky Masterson, played by Teddy Spencer with Brando-ish suaveness, trying to woo the missionary babe Sarah Brown. The latter was convincingly played with the coy innocence of a nun by Diamond Pedersen.
The other subplot is the aforementioned Adelaide’s attempt to get BS-artist Nathan Detroit to finally marry her. Nathan was played by Peter Mellencamp. In real life, Peter is an award-winning Napa playwright and screenwriting consultant and was a Hollywood story analyst, but watching Peter, you could swear he was a bum from Brooklyn.
A tip of the cap must also go to the crew: Tim Dugan supervised creation of the impressive sets, Skipper Skeoch was wonderfully thorough in creating costumes that brought the characters alive, and Theo Bridant created lighting that was not noticeable, which is what is supposed to happen in a show like this. One other thing: One of this reviewer’s bugaboos is when the microphones are distorting or echoing, which occurs in many productions. Not this one.
In sum, if you are thinking of what to do this weekend, yuze guys get your butts over to the college and see “Guys and Dolls.” Don’t fuggedabout it.
The final three performances of “Guys and Dolls” are on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $25 for adults, and $20 for seniors, students and military.
To purchase advance tickets go to napavalleytheater.org/index.php/box-office/general-information.