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Solid “Guys and Dolls” at Candlelight Pavilion (plus a good dinner!)

Robert Hoyt as Nicely-Nicely Johnson leads a rollicking "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" in Candlelight Pavilion's "Guys and Dolls" [photo: Demetrius Kastantonis]

Robert Hoyt as Nicely-Nicely Johnson leads a rollicking “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” in Candlelight Pavilion’s “Guys and Dolls” [photo: Demetrius Kastantonis]

Essentially, there are three elements which are necessary for the musical “Guys and Dolls” to work. First, it must be done completely straight. The peculiar formality of Damon Runyon characters’ slang must be respected as ordinary speech. The seriousness of every characters position must be taken at face value, no matter how silly it seems to the watcher. Second, the leads must be able to sing – really sing – including the minor characters. Third, everything from costumes to setting must be just a little bit larger than life.

Add to that appropriate, often fun choreography and singers who really can act, and you have a formula for happy result. All of this is present at the Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater in Claremont, where even when the casting is a bit more original than sometimes, the results are fit nicely together into the silly-serious package that makes the show.

The tale, concocted from several Runyon stories, follows a couple of connected paths: Nathan Detroit, operator of a famed floating crap game, must find a venue for his event – difficult because “the heat is on.” Speaking of heat, his fiancĂ© of many years, Adelaide, is pushing for a wedding. To finance his search for a site, Nathan bets visiting high roller Sky Masterson that he cannot convince Sarah, the leader of the local Salvation Army-style mission, to go to pre-Castro Havana with him for an evening. As Sky worms his way into Sarah’s world, Nathan ducks the cops and his girl, and all of New York’s underpinnings sing and dance up a storm.

Victor Hernandez is a far scruffier Nathan than sometimes appears, but that plays well to his equally scruffy occupation and current circumstances. His fuddling indecisiveness around Adelaide, played with authority by Stacy Huntington, seems more organic as is his fear of marriage. Allen Everman gives Sky a slickness which evolves into genuine concern with small but interesting “tells”. Ashley Grether’s Sarah has a kind of frenetic strength which provides just the right counterpoint. Indeed, Her “If I Were a Bell” becomes a highlight of the piece.

Backing these leads are both a fine ensemble of dancers, and some secondary players worthy of special note. Robert Hoyt gives the ever-apologetic Nicely-Nicely Johnson real presence. Emerson Boatwright becomes a truly comic visual joke as Big Jule, and plays it to the hilt. Jim Marbury supplies just the right combination of authority and practical frustration as Lieutenant Brannigan, the cop who never quite catches a break.

Greg Hinrichsen’s mash-up of New York makes a facile setting for the story, and Laurie Muniz’s choreography captures the feel the show must have – a kind of gentlemanly machismo for the gamblers, and classic burlesque for Adelaide and her girls. Andrew Orbison has the singers on target with even the complex things they must coordinate without a conductor – not a small feat. Still, the unifying force for tone, tempo of performance and structure is the sure hand of director John LaLonde. He has brought together all the elements, and keeps the whole thing cohesive, intentionally silly, and invariably upbeat.

So, go have fun. Damon Runyon was once a household word – quoted even in Abbot and Costello films. Today, it’s tough to find his stories, except in “Guys and Dolls”, making the show, in its way, a form of literary treasure. At Candlelight you also get a lovely meal, making the total evening relaxing and generally satisfying. What a nice way to welcome in the new year.

What: “Guys and Dolls” When: Through February 27, open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, at 5 p.m Sundays, and opened for matinee lunch at 11 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $58-$73 adults, $30-$35 children, meal-inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

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“The Producers” at Candlelight – Big musical fits well in smaller package

Bobby Collins and Jamie Snyder as Leo and Max in "The Producers" [photo: John LaLonde]

Bobby Collins and Jamie Snyder as Leo and Max in “The Producers” [photo: John LaLonde]

One of the most celebrated Broadway musicals of the recent past is Mel Brooks’ adaptation of his film “The Producers.” Ridiculous, clever and continuously engaging, it still demands a strong cast and a strong directorial vision to be a success. What a delightful surprise, then, to discover all of this at a place where you can also get a decent meal: the area’s last remaining true dinner theater, The Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont.

The story is as silly as one expects from Mel Brooks. Max Bialystock, a failing Broadway producer, joins forces with a timid accountant named Leo Bloom to make money by fleecing investors in a show intentionally so bad it closes. As Max gathers the money from a fleet of aged women he sequentially seduces, the two begin their search for a truly awful musical they can contract for, and cast. They hire a famously awful director, with his crew of stereotypical assistants, and the plot thickens.

Director Brian Thomas Barnhart and choreographer Janet Renslow work with considerable success to recreate the Broadway original on Candlelight’s smaller stage. A sizable, talented cast lives up to these demands, led by Jamie Snyder’s appropriately over-the-top Max, and Bobby Collins’ humorously fragile Leo. Both have strong singing voices, as well, and the entire cast proves impressive in dance routine after routine (including the famous “tapping walkers”).

Playing the ultimate stereotypes – in typical Brooks comedic fashion – Laura Thatcher creates the well-endowed, somewhat dim Swedish actress-turned-secretary Ulla, and Danny Blaylock creates the crazed former Nazi, Franz. Add to these Stanton Kane Morales’ cross-dressing director and Emerson Boatwright having a ball as his fawning assistant. Andrew Wade supplies a number of smaller character bits, and manages the classic tenor required for the Ziegfeld take-off “Springtime for Hitler.”

The polish doesn’t end there. James Gruessing’s set is a star all in and of itself – one of the most complex and layered ones Candlelight has ever used. The lighting is great, and the costumes, from The Theatre Company, are just right throughout.

More importantly, one laughs and laughs often. The show is genuinely funny, frankly funnier than in the production at the Ahmanson, where Jason Alexander, rather than living into the part of Max with great glee, seemed apologetic for not being Nathan Lane. No apologies here. Everyone is playing their parts full-out and the results are absolutely delightful.

One warning: Mel Brooks loves making fun of lust, and as such there are a number of moderately off-color references and actions which may make this a show that is inappropriate for kids. On the other hand, the show comes accompanied by good food and fabulous desserts, all of which contribute to a generally joyous experience.

So, go see “The Producers.” Having seen many of the productions in Candlelight Pavilion’s 30-year history, I’d rate this among the top ten. It really is worth one’s while to go and enjoy.

What: “The Producers” When: Through April 4, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and 11 a.m. for matinee brunches Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $58-$73, dinner inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com

No Mere Trojan Rabbit: Monty Python Captures Candlelight Pavilion

Adam Trent, Raymond Ingram and Chelsea Emma Franko in "Spamalot" [photo: John LaLonde]

Adam Trent, Raymond Ingram and Chelsea Emma Franko in “Spamalot” [photo: John LaLonde]

There is a reason that the clowns are the finest athletes in the circus: you have to be very, very good at something to do it “badly” and not get seriously hurt. By the same token, anyone creating a satirical version of an art form must be excellent at that art form in order for the humor to work. Otherwise, it just looks awkward and amateurish rather than snarky and funny.

Which is why it is delightful to be able to say that the new production of “Monty Python’s Spamalot” at the Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont has the absolutely necessary combination of crisp production, talented performers and unified wit needed to pull this thing off. One bad performance, or unintentional awkward transition, and much of what makes this show so very funny would be lost.

“Spamalot” is, of course, Python member Eric Idle’s reworking of the absolutely classic satiric film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which made fun of every possible aspect of the genre of medieval romantic stories and movies. Set to music by Idle and John Du Prez, it sets tongue firmly in cheek, and gets sillier and sillier as the evening progresses. That is, it does if the show lives up to its potential. Here it does.

The tale starts out as a silly version of King Arthur and the search for the Holy Grail. It takes any number of side trips, reworks Arthurian characters with abandon, and makes almost no sense, but then it isn’t intended to.

Raymond Ingram's King Arthur joins in dancing "The Knights of the Round Table" [photo: John LaLonde]

Raymond Ingram’s King Arthur joins in dancing “The Knights of the Round Table” [photo: John LaLonde]


In a comparatively small cast called upon, in most cases, to play a number of parts throughout the evening, there are several standout performances. Chelsea Emma Franko sings beautifully and carries the integral part of The Lady of the Lake with style and wit. Just such a performance is necessary to keep this thing moving. Raymond Ingram makes a solid King Arthur, and Adam Trent has a ball as his servant (complete with traditional coconuts).

Emerson Boatwright is the perfect, geeky historian, and a delightful Prince Herbert. Matt Dallal gives Sir Robin the properly milquetoast attitude. Jotape Lockwood’s dim Sir Lancelot, Bryan Vickery’s solid Sir Galahad, and Robert Hoyt in several parts but particularly Galahad’s mother all work well together. Indeed, the ensemble quality of this makes it all work, as the rest of the ensemble who back up these major players helps to prove.

The only major thing which could use fixing is the occasional bit of diction, especially when, as Lockwood must at one point, one must speak in an accent. The lines in this show are its best feature, so understanding what you hear is a must.

Director Chuck Ketter has just the right touch regarding both the pacing and the ridiculousness. Janet Renslow’s recreation of Casey Nicholaw’s original choreography, adapted for the smaller Candlelight stage, keeps the whole thing lively and showcases the multiple talents of the cast.

As was true of the original film, there are somewhat scatological jokes of one kind and another. One might want to rethink bringing small children, or the kind of adults who would be disquieted by Monty Python’s sometimes colorful humor. Still, I admit to taking my own kids, when younger, to see the film. My son even had a shirt with the French taunts on it which he was sad to grow out of.

Candlelight’s “Spamalot” is just plain fun. That it comes with a pretty nice dinner is just an added plus. Go and have fun. That’s what this show is all about, after all.

What: “Monty Python’s Spamalot” When: Through October 19, open for dinner at 6 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays, and 11 a.m. for Saturday and Sunday matinees Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $53 – $68, meal inclusive/ $25 for children 12 and under

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