“Guys and Dolls” is the epitome of cool, a story of gamblers, gangsters, molls and lounge lizards that’s become one of the most iconic Broadway shows of all time. The musical, which closes out Spokane Civic Theatre’s current season, has been performed and revived countless times since its 1950 premiere and was famously adapted into a film starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.
“In high school, this was actually the first show I was ever in,” said Melody Deatherage, director of the Civic’s upcoming production. “So it’s very dear to my heart for that reason. I was really introduced to theater through this show. … I was in the ensemble, kind of learning along the way, and I got bit by the bug at that time.”
“Guys and Dolls” is based on the writings of Damon Runyon, a newspaper reporter whose fiction was set in the gritty underbelly of New York City in the 1930s and ’40s.
“The characters are so strongly written, first by Damon Runyon and then by (songwriter) Frank Loesser and (playwright) Abe Burrows,” Deatherage said. “They’re fun, they’re funny, they’re wisecrackers. But they feel the same things we do – love, loss, hope, frustration. Even though they’re broad characters, you still can relate to them on a very human level.”
The guys of the title are Nathan Detroit (Patrick McHenry-Kroetch), who runs an illegal craps game, and Sky Masterson (Andrew Ware Lewis), a reckless gambler. The dolls are the pious Sarah Brown (Caryssa Murphy), who falls in love with Sky against her better judgment, and Nathan’s longtime fiancee Miss Adelaide (Tanya Barton), who urges him to change his ways.
Perhaps even more iconic than Runyon’s characters are Loesser’s songs, several of which – “A Bushel and a Peck,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “Luck Be a Lady” – became legitimate pop hits when recorded by other artists.
“They’ve become standards now,” Deatherage said. “You hear Frank Sinatra singing ‘Luck Be a Lady’ in restaurants and elevators all the time. I was actually in a restaurant a few weeks ago with friends who I’m working on the show with, and it was playing over the P.A. system.”
With its splashy production numbers and rat-a-tat dialogue, “Guys and Dolls” requires larger than life performers to make it click: Various productions have featured the likes of Ewan McGregor, Nathan Lane, Walter Matthau and Bob Hoskins. But Deatherage says her cast, which also features Gary Pierce as Sarah’s uncle Arvide Abernathy and Todd Kehne as gambler Nicely-Nicely Johnson, has risen to the challenges of the material.
“They’re so cohesive, and they have a great attitude and a great work ethic,” Deatherage said. “That’s the biggest joy.”
Deatherage also says that the production itself has been designed to stand out from a conventional interpretation of “Guys and Dolls”: The costumes and hairstyles are period appropriate, but the staging is more modern and abstract.
“We’re taking sort of a fresh approach to it,” she said. “It’s not going to have a traditional set. It’s a minimalist set, with open platforms taking us to different areas where the show takes place and suggested scenery. … We’ve streamlined in a few ways to keep up the pace and make it a fun ride.”
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