From the first joyful strains of “I Hear Music” sung by a sassy waitress wearing bobby socks, a toe-tapping-head-bobbing good time is in store with the world premiere musical “Another Roll of the Dice” at the North Coast Rep.
Over the course of two acts, six actors (Lance Carter, Sarah Errington, Elliot Lazar, Jason Maddy, Allison Spratt Pearce and Darrick Penny) bring to life 30 characters and three engaging Damon Runyon short stories. Along the way, we meet the likes of Joey Uptown, Tobias the Terrible, Sammy the Shirt and a safecracker named Touch Feely, and are swept away by musical standards such as “The Boys in the Backroom,” “Let’s Get Lost” and “Heart and Soul.”
Albeit without a solid connecting story through-line, the stories nonetheless stand solid as individual vignettes. The show is a sure bet in the hands of this superbly talented cast.
In “Tobias the Terrible” a nerdy Ivy League engineering grad tries to hold on to his college sweetheart who suddenly prefers the company of bad boys. Elliot Lazar is a comedic marvel as Tobias who, using questionable logic, seeks help from thugs to turn him into a tough guy. They steer him to the dressing room of nightclub singer Georgia St. George (Allison Spratt Pearce, positively sizzling in the role) who teaches Tobias more than dance moves as she sings “Why Fight the Feeling?”
At the center of “Breach of Promise,” former bookie (played by Lance Carter) who now engages in the respectable larceny of Wall Street arranges for the theft of a trove of love letters written to a former flame (played by Sarah Errington), least the missives become public and spoil his shot at wedding a ditzy society dame (played to hilarious heights by Allison Spratt Pearce). However, the second-story man he hires (accomplished singer Darrick Penny) has ideas of his own about the letters ultimate disposition.
The final offering is “Baseball Hattie” in which a die-hard female baseball fan faces a life-changing decision after overhearing her major-league pitcher husband Haystack Duggler (Jason Maddy) agree to a mobster’s offer to forgive his considerable gambling debts if Haystack throws a game. Will Hattie (Pearce) stand by her man or stand by the sanctity of the baseball?
Bookmarking the show and between each tale assorted characters take a breather at Mindy’s deli, which featured prominently in “Guys and Dolls.” This is endearing but also problematic. Yes, writer Mark Saltzman has done an admirable job melding the trio of Runyon stories with music and songs by songwriter Frank Loesser (with a sprinkling of Hoagy Carmichael and other greats in the mix), but too much unrealized focus on “Guys and Dolls” threatens to weigh down the show like a pair of mob-proffered cement shoes. Enjoy “Another Roll of the Dice” on its own merits which are considerable.
By Lynne Friedmann