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South stages 'Guys and Dolls'

The inaugural theater production at South Medford High School's new campus Thursday took students back to 1950s New York City to portray the intrigue and complications surrounding gambler Nathan Detroit's effort to secure a venue for an illegal craps tournament.

The Broadway musical "Guys and Dolls" is the school's first theater production since the new high school building and grounds opened in the fall at 1551 Cunningham Ave.

"We wanted to choose something showy, flashy and fun for our first musical," said musical director Andrea Brock. "This is kind of a show about a show, and we're kind of making our theater into the Hot Box Theater in the musical."

There will be six showings before the end of the month. Other performances are at 7 tonight, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26, and 2 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 27. Tickets can be purchased at the door and cost $5 for students, $8 for seniors and $10 for adults.

The lively, two-and-a-half-hour musical tells the story of Detroit, who wagers $1,000 that fellow gambler Sky Masterson can't woo prudish missionary Sarah Brown to go with him to Havana. Detroit thinks he's presented Masterson with an impossible task and feels confident he'll win the $1,000, which he needs to pay for a venue for "The Oldest Established Permanent Floating Craps Game in New York."

About 40 South Medford students are participating in the production this year, with help from volunteers, costumer Marje Murch and choreographer Dee Chadwell, a retired South Medford teacher.

Student A.J. Freis stars as Detroit, Christina Dewar as Miss Adelaide, Detroit's fiancée of 14 years who always has a cold because he won't marry her, Natalie Horton as Sarah Brown and Micah Jones as Masterson.

The new theater's wrap-around seating presented new challenges in staging this year's performance. South Medford's theater at the old campus on South Oakdale Avenue had a more traditional, proscenium-arch theater from which audience seating only provided a frontal view.

"It's more sculptural now," Chadwell said. "There is more opportunity for movement because the audience can see from all different angles."

"It's really awesome how the audience can be so close," said sophomore Nate Johnson, who plays gambler Big Gules. "It helps them feel they can be part of the storyline."

"There are a lot of characters people can relate to," Nate added. "That's what makes it a good play."

During a dress rehearsal Wednesday, Miss Adelaide demonstrated the theater's opportunity for audience interaction by dancing up one of the aisles, putting her hand on one of the spectator's shoulders and cooing, "Hello, dear," in a thick New York accent.

The new theater is equipped with technology and lighting that allows adding special effects such as colored lights more easily, said Nic Walsh, production designer and technical director.

"The C-changer, which essentially allows one light fixture to change colors during the show, allows us to do unlimited color," Walsh said. "We can go from a cool blue to a warmer color with the push of a button rather than having to have double fixtures or swapping out lights during the show."

But the new theater also has drawbacks. With seating for only 383 people, the school had to schedule seven performances to make sure everyone had an opportunity to see the production, Horton said. The theater at the old South Medford sat 1,000.

The students have been rehearsing for the production since the beginning of October, and this month, the performers have practiced several hours a day six times per week. On Veterans Day, the cast put in eight hours of rehearsals.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

South Medford High School students perform “Guys and Dolls” during a dress rehearsal Wednesday evening in their new theater. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore