by Gail Burns and Larry Murray. For the Berkshire-Capital region’s most comprehensive listing of theatre offerings visit GailSez.org.
Larry Murray:Guys and Dolls has opened the tenth season for C-R Productions at the Cohoes Music Hall, it’s a wonderful show, and it’s arguably the best musical ever written. The colorful characters, the hummable music, the bright costumes, they’re all theatrical heaven.
Gail Burns: C-R Productions’ Artistic Director Jim Charles says its one of his favorite musicals and he is not alone. Frank Loesser (1910-1969), who wrote the music and lyrics, was already established as a successful tunesmith on Tin Pan Alley and in Hollywood before trying his hand on Broadway with a musical adapation of Charley’s Aunt in 1948. Guys and Dolls (1950), based on a couple of Damon Runyon’s Broadway short stories, was his second Broadway show and won him his first two Tonys. He also penned the magificent but seldom performed Most Happy Fella (1956) and the less successful Greenwillow (1960), before winning two more Tonys and the Pulitzer for How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961) (Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling’s book for Guys and Dolls would have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama had Burrows not been in trouble with the House Un-American Activities Committee.)
Larry: It seems like just yesterday (2011 actually) we had the pleasure of its acquaintance at Barrington Stage Company in another brilliant production. What do you think the difference is between them? (Link to Gail’s review)
Gail: I loved the BSC production last year. They are a larger, bigger budgeted company performing on much larger stage, so in a way it is comparing apples and oranges, but Guys and Dolls can be wonderful on a large or small scale. LoriAnn Freda’s Miss Adelaide was every bit the equal to Leslie Kritzer’s boffo performance, and I liked Paul C. Kelly as Nathan Detroit much better than Michael Thomas Holmes at BSC. But the best part of any C-R Productions show is getting to hear the score unmiked. And Cohoes always has a decent sized pit orchestra, while BSC has sometimes mounted musicals with two pianos.
This is the one, the classic that Barrington Stage Company was born to do. Guys and Dolls succeeds where musicals and plays about nobler characters fall short. This down-to-earth show was first penned in 1950 and took Broadway by storm. Its magical ingredients are the perfect concoction of words, music, dance and story. It all begins with a bet, and from there on we are off to the races, so to speak.
The show focuses on a quartet of characters. Nathan Detroit (Michael Thomas Holmes) is trying to stay a step ahead of the police and find a place to hold his craps game. He needs front money and bets another gambler, Sky Masterson (Matthew Risch), that he can’t persuade Save-A-Soul missionary sister Sarah Brown (Morgan James) to go with him to Cuba. Meanwhile, Nathan is doing his best to stay outside the matrimonial clutches of his long-suffering fiancée, Miss Adelaide (Leslie Kritzer).
The creators of Guys and Dolls – Frank Loesser (music and lyrics) and Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows (Book) – called the show a “Fable of Broadway” and its recreation of life on the street is naive, impulsive, self-centered, and lively. Gamblers and gangsters mix it up with molls and missionaries, propelled along by one of the sprightliest musical scores ever written.
Correy West, Daniel Marcus and Timothy Shew (photo by Kevin Sprague)
That was NOT me seen dancing my way out of the BSC Main Stage yesterday afternoon shouting something semi-coherent about “Fun!”…well, okay, it was. I admit, I had a pile of fun at Guys and Dolls and while I know that, professionally, I shouldn’t be seen expressing an opinion in public, I couldn’t help myself. Fun is highly under-rated and often denigrated when applied to art, but having it is really vital to the living of a sane, healthy life. I was suffering from serious theatrical fun deprivation and went a little loopy after the near-overdose that Guys and Dolls provided.
But I was not the first person to utter the word “fun” in the theatre – BSC Artistic Director Julianne Boyd started it in her curtain speech when she said that sometimes you stage a show just because its fun to do, and that she and the company had had lots of fun putting this production together. So the fact that the end result was fun to watch is hardly surprising.
But if you don’t want to believe me and Julie Boyd, I give you the evidence of the audience with whom I attended – an audience laden with curmudgeonly critics, I might add – who twice stopped the show with their applause and gave a rousing standing ovation at the end. I know that standing O’s have been over-indulged in of late, but this one was the real McCoy. You could feel the energy building. I love that feeling.
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