Children’s theater gets a bad rap. It’s generally dismissed as saccharine and slightly awkward pap that serves little purpose beyond giving parents an opportunity to fawn over their terrified kids. In some instances, that is exactly the case.
But don’t be mistaken: When it comes to children’s shows put on by The Box Performance Space’s Cardboard Playhouse, the assumption is utterly false. Guys and Dolls Jr., playing at the theater through Oct. 31, is one of the most enjoyable productions, children’s or non-, I’ve seen in Albuquerque in a good long while.
Keep in mind that the ages of the few dozen kids in the show range substantially. Some are children small enough to pass around à la Owen Meany. Others are teens about to graduate from high school, and they fill out the lead roles. The acting abilities for each age group vary respectively, but even the youngest kids are well-directed, hilarious and cute as all get-out. And some of the older kids demonstrate considerable talent.
Most of you are familiar with the storyline of Guys and Dolls, which, against the bustling backdrop of ’50s New York City, revolves around fedora-topped high rollers and red-coated Salvation Army missionaries. Craps player Nathan Detroit has been narrowly avoiding actually getting married to his showgirl fiancée Adelaide for 14 years. Sky Masterson is a slick gambler who claims he can win any bet and catch any “doll.” It’s a love story with a pretty obvious moral lesson at the end, but it’s delivered lightheartedly.
The acting abilities for each age group vary respectively, but even the youngest kids are well-directed, hilarious and cute as all get-out.
Everything about the Box’s production is executed beautifully—the modular set, which is comprised of a few benches and three large panels that serve as the background for a mission, a nightclub and the city itself; the costumes (I’ve never seen so many tiny pressed suits in one place); the singing. This is a musical, so most scenes are coupled with a song or two. Despite the occasional cracking voice, the numbers are solid, well-choreographed and actually kind of delightful.
The acting is also surprisingly good. Easton Douglas plays Nathan Detroit. Douglas is a tall, charismatic kid who easily melds into his role. Watch the guy for a few scenes. You’ll swear he’s really from the ’50s. Likewise, Nathan Clifford is smooth and natural in the role of Sky Masterson, and also has a good set of pipes. Danae Otero, who plays the enthusiastic mission sergeant Sarah Brown, has a lovely voice, a good stage presence and an endearing quality about her.
It’s Rebecca Dawson, though, who steals the show. This girl is good. She portrays the ditzy but warmhearted Adelaide with an uncanny level of professionalism. Maintaining a magnificent Betty Boop-inspired accent that somehow never becomes annoying, Dawson moves exaggeratedly with fantastic comic timing and grace. Her solo number, “Adelaide’s Lament,” is the highlight of show; I’d like to see it again about 10 more times. She’s strong, funny and as talented as she is gorgeous (i.e., very). Especially as a teenager, she’d stand out on any stage in town (hear that, casting directors?). If she stays with it, she can probably go as high as her ambition takes her. I’m impressed.
You might not get particularly excited when you hear the term “children’s theater,” but put your assumptions aside. If you’re interested in a captivating, sweet show that will leave your cheeks a little sore from smiling, give Guys and Dolls Jr. a chance while you still can. It’s a rollicking good time.