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PRC’s Summer Youth Conservatory’s Rendition of “Guys & Dolls” Unleashes a Flood of Talent

The cast brings Damon Runyon's denizens of the Broadway demimonde to life (photo by Jon Gardiner)

The cast brings Damon Runyon’s denizens of the Broadway demimonde to life (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Guys & Dolls is one of America’s most beloved musicals, incorporating Damon Runyon’s shady Broadway characters of New York’s 1930s and employing intricate musical devices that accent rhythms and performance and bad guys who are lovable and often loving, if misguided. It was Depression-era spirit raising, and it still stirs hearts and minds. The book is by the incomparable Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, with music by multi-award winning Frank Loesser.

Guys & Dolls is not the first difficult and deep musical that the PlayMakers Repertory Company Summer Youth Conservatory, under the direction of PlayMakers Rep associate artistic director Jeffrey Meanza, has undertaken since its inception in 2007. The list includes their inaugural production of Oliver!; The Music Man; Sweeney Todd; and the Bard’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The program admits rising high school freshmen through recent graduates into five weeks of intensive training with theater professionals. Students opt for backstage or performance activities. The conservatory was the 2009 recipient of the prestigious Constance Welsh Theatre for Youth Award, presented by the North Carolina Theatre Conference.

Robin Vest has cleverly designed a set that imbues the darker area of Broadway in the 1930s, with half the blinking lights of the Hot Box night club out, the large Loew’s State sign vertically along the right stage side, the dim lights of the Save-a-Soul Mission, and three sliding risers that are imprinted with maps of the streets of Manhattan. In center stage is a trap door from which emerges such things as a newsstand, a telephone booth, and Miss Adelaide’s dressing room.

The sound system, designed by Ryan Gastelum, is perfect; and the six-piece band, located upstairs upstage, under the direction of Mark Lewis, are excellent musicians. Lights are ably designed by Dominic Abbenante.

Broadway choreographer Matthew Steffens dynamically leads groups ranging from several to 25 or more dancers through complex and exciting routines, using every inch of space, including two of the stairway aisles, which are filled a couple of times with folks spilling up and down them.

Costume designer Jade Bettin captures the essence of underworld 1930s through glamourous Hot Box girls gold lamé, and the stingy-brim fedoras on the men, along with street clothes for both and the ensembles for Miss Adelaide’s lament, “Take Back Your Mink.”

The overture opens on the versatile set, and moves on to the “Runyonland” dance, then slips into “Fugue for Tinhorns,” amazingly performed by Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Ryan Widd), Benny Southstreet (Colin Kless), and Rusty Charlie (Daniel Johnson). It sets a galloping pace that never lets up throughout the show.

Ethan Fox, whom we believe is an emerging star, brings us a Nathan Detroit committed to his fiancée of 14 years, as well as “The Oldest Established (Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York).” He has a great singing voice and a commanding stage presence that makes for a likable character.

Ainsley Seiger as Miss Adelaide and The Hot Box Girls make "Guys & Dolls" sizzle (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Ainsley Seiger as Miss Adelaide and The Hot Box Girls make “Guys & Dolls” sizzle (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Miss Adelaide is very professionally done by Ainsley Seiger, who endows her role with that winsome combination of sexiness and sweetness. The same attributes are projected in her lovely singing voice, especially notable in her duet with Fox as Nathan Detroit in “Sue Me.”

Sarah Brown, the Save-a-Soul missionary, is played by Mya Ison with a sincerity and naiveté that is endearing. Her magnificent soprano wafts operatically through the house and her duet, “I’ve Never Been In Love Before,” with Sky Masterson (Gideon Chickos), is powerful and touching.

Chickos brings an urbane quality to Sky that is required for the part. His take-command demeanor gives the character the gravitas that it needs to move from street gambler to Sarah’s husband. His solo and ensemble number “Luck Be a Lady” is done with spotless class.

Nicely-Nicely Johnson’s solo with ensemble “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” performed by Ryan Widd, is a true show stopper. The vocalizing of all concerned is marvelous, and the choreography and dancing are vibrant and exciting.

The training that these hard-working and talented young people have experienced is amply demonstrated in this show, and we expect to see more of each of them in the future.

Colin Kless (left) as Benny Southstreet, Ryan Widd (center) as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, and Daniel Johnson as Rusty Charlie perform "Fugue for Tinhorns," in PlayMakers SYC's version of "Guys & Dolls" (photo by Jon Gardiner)

Colin Kless (left) as Benny Southstreet, Ryan Widd (center) as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, and Daniel Johnson as Rusty Charlie perform “Fugue for Tinhorns,” in “Guys & Dolls” (photo by Jon Gardiner)

July 17th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Kate Dobbs Ariail:; July 16th Chapel Hill, NC Daily Tar Heel (student newspaper) preview by the Trevor Lenzmeier:; July 16th Chapel Hill, NC WCHL interview with director Jeffrey Meanza, conducted by Aaron Keck:; July 15th Raleigh, NC Raleigh preview by the BWW News Desk:; July 14th Chapel Hill, NC News preview:; and June 20th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview: (Note: You must subscribe to read this article). (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the July 13th Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell:

The PlayMakers Repertory Company Summer Youth Conservatory presents GUYS & DOLLS at 7:30 p.m. July 17 and 18, 2 p.m. July 19, and 7:30 p.m. July 24 and 25 in the Paul Green Theatre in the Center for Dramatic Art, 120 Country Club Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514, on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.

TICKETS: $15 ($10 for students 18 and under).

BOX OFFICE: 919-962-7529 or

SHOW: and



PRC BLOG (Page to Stage):




“The Idyll of Sarah Brown” (1933 short story): (Wikipedia).

Damon Runyon (author and journalist, 1880-1946): (Internet Broadway Database) and (Wikipedia).

Guys & Dolls: A Musical Fable of Broadway (1950 Broadway and 1953 West End musical): (official website for the current London production), (Music Theatre International), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Study Guide: (Music Theatre International).

Frank Loesser (composer and lyricist, 1910-69): (official website), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Jo Swerling (librettist, 1897-1964): (Internet Broadway Database) and (Wikipedia).

Abe Burrows (librettist, 1910-85): (Masterworks Broadway), (Internet Broadway Database), and (Wikipedia).

Jeffrey Meanza (director and associate artistic director of PlayMakers Repertory Company): (PlayMakers Rep bio) and (Internet Movie Database).


Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.


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