My 2010 concert year began in Ottawa with a wonderful trip back in time to 1950 through a performance of "Guys and Dolls: In Concert". The always fantastic Maestro Jack Everly led the NACO, four main vocalists, about a dozen gamblers, a few Salvation Army Mission folk, and the Hot Box Girls in a musical performance that I'll characterize as the Broadway show minus the sets. There were costumes, and dialogue from binders (although most of the actors referenced them only occasionally), and music! A lit up "Pops" sign, two large dice, and chairs provided tables and props as needed. Honestly, you didn't miss sets, the rest of it was so good. If I didn't already like the score the show would have gone a long way to changing that. I love being able to watch the orchestra and conductor on stage. In this case I wish that I had multiple sets of eyes to be able to focus on everything at the same time.
Kristen Plumley as Sarah Brown was beautiful. Her voice is so clear and she acted the part really well. Her part in Sci-Fi Spectacular last season, with I believe it was only a single solo song, really didn't do her justice. She also blended nicely with Hugh Panaro's Sky Masterson. In my opinion much better, in all regards, than Marlon Brando's movie version. I was excitedly waiting to hear him do "Luck Be a Lady" rather than wishing it was Frank Sinatra, and he did a great job! Gary Beach as Nathan Detroit, and Megan Lawrence as Miss Adelaide were also excellent. "Adelaide's Lament" is one of my favourite pieces and Megan's performance was full of charm, and very realistic sneezes!
The supporting cast of gamblers are not to be left out. Nicely Nicely Johnson (Eddie Glen) did a great job of "Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat". This wasn't one of my initial favourite songs, although it has grown on me. It did emphasize one of the small problems of the evening. The balance between orchestra, chorus, and soloist's wasn't always quite right. For example, one line wasn't able to be heard because the chorus volume overpowered him. The lyrics by Frank Loesser in all the songs are just so good it's a shame to miss any. A few times Big Jule's mike didn't get turned on until about a sentence or so into his narration. On the positive side, special kudos go to the gambler who in "Guys and Dolls" had the line "When a guy wears tails with the front gleaming white, who the hell do you think he's tickling pink on Saturday night", what a voice!
I like to be slightly blown away by the orchestra, not to the point of them overpowering the vocalists, but in the upbeat orchestral sections (such as parts of the overture) I could have had a bit more volume. Unfortunately, the two orchestral pieces from the 1992 Broadway revival recording (which is how I came to love the music), "Havana" and "The Crapshooters Dance" were pretty much left out. I can only assume they were in the original Broadway version as well. Short segments were heard during narrations/prop re-arragement but it would have been great to have them left in their entirety. Given that it's an "in concert" performance and the music is playing a key role, having a few orchestra numbers to show off the NAC orchestra, particularly the larger brass section, wouldn't have been out of line.
None of that though detracted from a very enjoyable evening. It had occurred to me that having Maestro Everly get in on the action by introducing the Hot Box numbers as if he was the conductor in the night club, might work well. But Big Jule did that part as well.
I'll be keeping my eyes out to see if this ends up on any other orchestral schedules for the upcoming seasons, I'd go see it again in a heartbeat! Speaking of which...all you other orchestras out there--time to announce your 2010/2011 season, Toronto's beaten you all :)