Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
“Into the Woods” – Starlight Musical Theatre
“Guys and Dolls” – Moonlight Stage Productions
AIRDATE: JULY 18, 2008
It’s summertime, the livin ’ is easy, and the evenings are warm … so how about a little music by Moonlight or singin ’ in Starlight? It’s the perfect time for an outdoor musical. And two 20th century classics are filling San Diego skies .. … “”Guys and Dolls” and “Into the Woods.” Written nearly 40 years apart, both are uncannily clever, thanks to the brilliance of composer Frank Loesser, librettist Abe Burrows and the inimitable Stephen Sondheim.
First stop, Starlight Theatre, the grand dame of outdoor musical venues. When the shows began in Balboa Park 62 years ago, this was a different city. The few planes that flew over were a novelty; people loved to watch those stop-on-a-dime freezes. But now we’ve got a major international airport. And with a lyric-driven musical like “Into the Woods,” where the words are everything and there aren’t many big production numbers, it’s just unacceptable to be smack in the middle of a busy flight-path. The night I was there, the show was stopped 32 times, which only served to highlight the show’s weaknesses — its length and repetitiveness.
“Into the Woods” is the story of what happens after “happily ever after,” an even grimmer look at Grimm’s fairy tales, showing us the disappointment that reflects the luster of dreams being tarnished by reality. The singing is excellent; the sets and costumes are colorful and fanciful. Cinderella, golden-voiced Sarah Bermudez, gets to wear some gorgeous gowns. But her Prince turns out to be a philanderer. The other standouts are the poor Baker, engagingly played by Tom Andrew, who just wants a child. And Lili Fuller’s delectable Little Red Riding Hood just wants to get to Grandma’s. But they’re all thwarted by Leigh Scarritt’s funny, nasty, power-voiced Witch. The actors are working hard, along with their 15 fellow cast members and 13 musicians, against daunting odds. It’s time for Starlight to make a change. Enclose the space or move. This just isn’t fun any more.
Now, for some unimpeded musical amusement, head up to Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista, where you’ll find a bunch of delightful “Guys and Dolls,” energetically directed by John Vaughan, who totally nails the Prohibition-era, Damon Runyan dialect and humor. “Guys and Dolls’ is one of the all-time great musicals, and this is the funniest production I’ve seen in a long time, thanks especially to Lance Smith as that indefatigable crap-game organizer, Nathan Detroit, and Tracy Lore as his long-suffering fiancée, the psychosomatic sniffler , Adelaide. They are a hoot, and their singing is terrific. The rest of the 24-member ensemble is great, with the males doing exceptional work on Vaughan ’s choreography. With a brassy, 18-piece orchestra, the Vista hills are alive with the sound of music. So, grab a picnic dinner and your favorite fellow theatergoer. And try your luck at a summer musical.
“Guys and Dolls” runs through July 20, at Moonlight Amphitheatre in Vista .
“Into the Woods” continues through July 27 at Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park .
©2008 PAT LAUNER