By Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Performance length: about 2 and ½ hrs. with a 15-minute intermission.
Book: Easy; Music: Medium
SET DESIGN: Medium
COSTUME DESIGN: Medium
CAST POTENTIAL: With colorful characters, a comedic score, and flashy dance numbers, this musical is sure to excite your cast.
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CROWD REACTION: Guys and Dolls has been a crowd favorite for over 60 years, with popular numbers like “Guys and Dolls,” “Lucky Be a Lady,” and “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat.”
The setting is 1950s Times Square, and the streets are littered with gamblers, thugs, dancers, and missionaries. Nathan Detroit is the town’s number one producer of “high-rolling” crap games, but because the chief of police, Lt. Brannigan, has cracked down on crime, Nathan has an increasingly hard time finding a joint to host his gambling escapades. He discovers the Biltmore Hotel garage is available but needs $1000 to secure it. Enter Sky Masterson, the luckiest man in the world who never skips out on a bet. Nathan bets that Sky cannot take Sarah Masterson, the extremely conservative leader of Save-A-Soul Mission, to Havana for the weekend.
To make matters worse, Nathan is engaged to the beautiful Adelaide (for fourteen years!) who wants Nathan to drop gambling all together. As the play progresses, Nathan does everything he can to put-off their wedding, hoping he can continue gambling without settling down. Meanwhile, Sky, to his chagrin, fails to seduce Sarah. So he makes a bet with her that he can fill the flailing mission with a dozen “genuine sinners” if she goes to Havana with him.
What follows is a series of gambles, tricks, and chicanery that eventually help Nathan and Adelaide marry and bring Sky and Sarah together. The show is filled with fantastic dance numbers, especially a rousing craps game in a sewer, with lively, catchy tunes filled with zip and energy. In short, this is old Broadway in its purest form.
This musical is filled with comedic, character roles that should give your acting pool a great deal of opportunity. The guys get to play charming gangsters, each with their own unique trademark (such as Nicely-nicely who’s so nice he says everything twice), while the girls get the chance to play dimwitted nightclub dancers. The musical numbers emphasis catchy and humorous melodies, making the songs flexible and accessible for all sorts of musical talents.
Unfortunately, the male roles dominate the text. Other than the two leads, there are very few parts for female actors. However, it’s noteworthy to mention that the Hotbox Dancers can be show stealers in their own right, while, in the recent Broadway Revival, General Cartwright, played brilliantly by Mary Testa, was electrifyingly memorable in her very brief appearance.
Set in Times Square, the scenic elements should be bright and flashy. Neon lights and big, gaudy signs adorn the stage. Designers usually implement unit sets to cover the vast amount of locations – the city street, inside a nightclub, a sewer, a mission, Havana – in a quick, dynamic way.
The costumes are another bright attraction for the show. Ranging from colorful gangster suits, flashy burlesque outfits, austere missionary clothes, the costumes literally paint the stage with a cornucopia of shapes, colors, and textures.
Though this play is about gangsters, burlesque dancers, and crooks, the presentation of these characters couldn’t be more family-oriented. This play is designed to excite fun and laughter. Some themes – such as gambling, drinking, and violence – are present but fill the show in a bright, bubble-gum display.
I’ve seen this show many times, and every time I find it an absolute delight. It’s almost impossible to resist humming along as the actors sing the play’s most recognizable songs. The mixture of bright lights, electric dances, catchy songs, and side-splitting comedy is irresistible.
Though, this is another show that can be bogged down by its reputation. This play is constantly revived and, therefore, carries with it certain patterns that are repeated continually (notably Adelaide’s high-pitch cadence). I recommend finding any moment to break away from the fold and introduce innovative ways to confront the songs. Check Tituss Burgess’s rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat,” to hear a groundbreaking approach to a classic number.