The woman sitting next to me has her bare foot hiked practically into my lap, and she scratches and picks at it in between whoops and bursts of applause. I am grossed out, but, looking at the bigger picture, I'm also impressed, because this isn't a rock concert, or a tractor-pull, this is the opening night of a staged musical - the type of show you thought only your parents and grandparents were interested in. In what is supposed to be the Realm of Blue-Hairs, I'm sitting next to someone too hip for footwear. And the house is full of enthusiastic folks of all ages.

No, this isn't the hip-young-musical Mamma Mia (where I had been the night before, and at which everyone was both well-shod and well-heeled). It isn't Rent or Hedwig. It's the San Pedro Playhouse, and the production is Guys and Dolls, an authentic theatrical museum piece.

First produced in 1950, and based on a Damon Runyon story about love-among-the-low-lifes on mythico-gangster Broadway, the show's antique and decidedly un-PC "guys" and "dolls" are as ripe for aesthetic and political rejection as Shakespeare's famously un-PC Venetians - the Merchant and the Moor. But to reject these pieces on the basis of their outdated representations of ethnicity, religion, or gender is to indefensibly indulge in Presentism.

Vivienne Elborne - a progressive icon herself, being the theater's first female artistic director in more than 70 years - has made the Playhouse into a consistent preserver of the idiom of the American stage musical. Her Guys and Dolls is directed with attention to the period - not only the period represented in the play but, more importantly, the period in our artistic and cultural history represented by the play. Everything is clean, brisk, broad, and bright. The cast is generally strong and confident. Greg Hinojosa plays Nathan Detroit as an endearing Louis de Palma-type, and stealing the show's heart. The squeaky-voiced Moll-Doll Miss Adelaide, brought to life by Anella Keys, was an audience favorite, and deservedly so.

8pm Friday, 7pm Saturday, 2:30pm Sunday
Through April 19
$20 adults
$18 seniors & military
$11 students under 25 (with ID)
San Pedro Playhouse
San Pedro Park at Ashby
R.C. Thor's rendition of the beautiful "More I Cannot Wish You" was a high point, and J. Von Eberhardt as Nicely-Nicely Johnson stopped the show with "Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat."

Shows like this are a snapshot of our past. They are every bit as worth preserving, in all their naïvete and politically incorrect glory, as the classical works of Shakespeare, and the Greek theater. "Museum piece" theater has taken a bad rap. Museums are living places that preserve important moments in our past. They are only dry, dusty, and dead to the extent that they fail to attract visitors - both those who are nostalgically re-visiting what they remember, and more importantly, those who are young enough to be experiencing this piece of history for the first time.

To judge from the opening night audience at Guys and Dolls, this is a museum that is still relevant to theater-goers in San Antonio. Even if one might wish some of them were "square" enough to keep their shoes on! •

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More by Laurie Dietrich



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