‘Guys and Dolls’ was an absolute delight

The stars were aligned for Saturday’s production of “Guys and Dolls” at Powers Auditorium.

It was the first time the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra ever did a concert version of a musical, and it was a home run.

Some might call it beginner’s luck, but the truth is, the YSO and Easy Street Productions have the requisite talent and experience to pull it off. The success of their collaboration comes as no surprise. They made a great team.

The show drew a full house, and the 2,000-plus folks in attendance knew they had seen something fresh and fun, and uniformly first-rate.

Plus, everything just looks and sounds a bit better in beautiful Powers.

There was uncertainty as to what to expect from a concert version. It turned out to be definitely a musical theater performance – just streamlined and condensed a bit.

The orchestra, led by Randall Craig Fleischer, was seated at the center rear of the stage, flanked by two 20-foot tall screens that provided scenery and visual cues for locations.

There were few props and reduced choreography, but the comedy and charm were intact.

Perhaps the remarkable thing was how it showcased local talent.

Two of the four leads – Natalia Lepore Hagan and Elysia Jordan – are Broadway tour professionals who hail from the Mahoning Valley, and they were simply dynamite. I expect both will make a name for themselves before long.

The two were coming off national tours (“Love Never Dies” for Lepore Hagan and “School of Rock” for Jordan), and just happened to have the time to do “Guys and Dolls” in their hometown.

Lepore Hagan was nursing a foot injury but with a little finagling by director Todd Hancock, it went unnoticed.

In her most demanding dance scene, Lepore Hagan instead joined Fleischer on the podium and “directed” the orchestra. It was the only interaction between the actors and the musicians, and it not only seamlessly fit in with the nightclub scene, but it made a connection with the ensemble that seemed appropriate.

Another lead, Allan Snyder, is a Broadway veteran who moved to Pittsburgh a few years ago.

The rest of the large cast was filled with the cream of the crop from local community theater. While it was a pleasure to watch the pros, the locals more than held their own.

John Cox, was the only local among the four leads and was a natural fit for the role of Nathan Detroit. He even looked the part.

Despite a demanding “day job” – he’s a doctor – Cox’s theater schedule goes nonstop. He’ll appear in the Youngstown Playhouse’s “The Elephant Man” in a couple weeks.

Patricia Syak, president of the Youngstown Symphony Society, said similar concert version collaborations will become part of the season going forward, maybe every other year.

It’s a big undertaking, she said. There is a limited number of musicals that have been given the concert version treatment, and the first task is finding one on a par with “Guys and Dolls.”

The YSO is nearing the end of a strong season, and will make changes in the 2019-20 season – which will be unveiled in another month or so – that reflect its strength and audience preferences.

The subscription series this season included two classical shows and three pops. Next year’s will boast four classical concerts and three pops.

For the first time, the classical performances will be moved to the 600-seat Ford Family Recital Hall, where they will easily sell every ticket. The bigger-selling pops concerts will remain in Powers.

The free Stained Glass Series concerts in local houses of worship has become a hit and will expend to seven in 2019-20.

Guy D’Astolfo covers entertainment for The Vindicator. Follow him on Twitter at @VindyVibe.

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