Opera review: Utah Festival Opera's 'Guys and Dolls' a bit sluggish

Published: Monday, July 19 2010 5:07 p.m. MDT

From left, Carianne Wrona as Adelaide, Kyle Pfortmiller as Nathan Detroit, Vanessa Ballam as Sarah Brown and Mark Womack as Sky Masterson in UFO's "Guys and Dolls."

Utah Festival Opera

"GUYS AND DOLLS" through Aug. 7, Utah Festival Opera, Logan (435-750-0300); running time: 3 hours, 10 minutes, (one intermission)

LOGAN — As the orchestra kicked in to the overture for "Guys and Dolls," my first thought, after the chills stopped, was "Thank you, Frank Loesser, for songs as gorgeous as 'I've Never Been in Love Before' and 'I'll Know' and for songs as catchy as 'Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat' and 'Luck Be a Lady Tonight.' "

My second thought was "Thank you, Utah Festival Opera, for using a full orchestra, led by Karen Keltner, to bring this lush score to life."

The third thought, though, was "These folks seem tired; like they've already sung a full opera today."

Now, that said, most of the leads in "Guys and Dolls" did not perform in Saturday afternoon's matinee of "Barber of Seville." But, the generally peppy show just seemed a big sluggish, especially for a show taking place in one of the most bustling cities on the planet.

The set changes were terribly slow (how long does it take to bring on a cabaret table?), and some of the banter was not quick and snappy.

The crowd certainly didn't seem to notice. With a vibe that felt much more like a rock concert than a night at the theater, the audience happily hung on every word and song.

And there is much about the musical comedy that works well, like festival favorite Mark Womack, for starters. What a dashing Sky Masterson. He looks the part, plays the part well and, when he starts into "I've Never Been in Love Before," the theater was absolutely still.

Vanessa Ballam, daughter of festival founder Michael Ballam, plays his love interest, Sarah Brown. Her soaring soprano handles Loesser's lyrical score with ease, and her scene in Havana, when she's had too much to drink, is a highlight.

But I didn't feel like the relationship grew or changed much. Perhaps director Valerie Rachelle could have blocked a more cat-and-mouse-like introduction scene for the two. Sky never seemed to get too far under Sarah's skin, so when she falls in love, the change isn't as evident or pronounced.

The only problem with Nathan Detroit is he hardly ever sings. Festival favorite Kyle Pfortmiller is charming as the man who runs the craps game, but I was itchin' to have him sing more. (If you're a fan, you can catch Pfortmiller in full voice as Figaro in "The Barber of Seville.")

I don't think Carianne Wrona hit all the comedic notes as Adelaide, Detroit's long-suffering 14-year fiancée. Her songs were tentatively sung, and it felt like her character vacillated quite a bit.

W. Lee Daily delivered a very rousing "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," garnering a lengthy applause. And Michael Ballam is especially enjoyable as Uncle Arvide. "More I Cannot Wish You" is beautifully and tenderly sung and, needless to say, his connection with Vanessa is genuine.

Robert Little's painted sets work well for the show, and Chad Bonaker's lighting also adds to the storytelling, creating an interesting mood, especially in "Luck Be a Lady."

e-mail: ehansen@desnews.com

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