Guys and Dolls in now playing at Gilbert’s Hale Centre Theatre where it will be continuing through April 3. Judging by the thunderous applause that greeted this fantastic new production of Frank Loesser’s masterpiece on opening night, there is no doubt that this 1950 musical remains 60 years young.
Guys and Dolls was Loesser’s second Broadway effort after his enormous debut success two years earlier with Where’s Charley?. While well established in Hollywood, radio and especially the uniquely special lingo of Runyonland, Loesser’s co-authors, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, were Broadway neophytes. Swerling and Burrows based their rock solid libretto on several short stories by Damon Runyon, The Idylls of Miss Sarah Brown, Blood Pressure and Pick the Winner. The authors perfectly duplicated the sound and careful enunciation of Runyon’s Broadway Speak. When spoken correctly, as it is here with the Hale’s thoroughly realized new production, the book’s dialog is almost Shakespearean in intensity. In fact, Guys and Dolls could be the modernization of one of the Bard’s missing plays. Just a thought, mind you!
The production was brilliantly staged by theater wunderkind George S. Kaufman (known affectionately as “The Great Collaborator” ) and famed choreographer Peter Gennaro. Together Kaufman and Gennaro took the sum of Guys and Dolls’ dizzying parts and made them a magical whole. Without doubt, the happy combination of all these theater magicians created one of the truly great musicals of Broadway’s first Golden Age.
Broadway trivia: When Loesser suggested reprising some songs in the second act, Kaufman warned: “If you reprise the songs, we’ll reprise the jokes.” (Dorothy Herrmann, With Malice Toward All 1982)
Kaufman was both playwright and theater critic. His first play Someone in the House, co-authored with Larry Evans and W.C. Percival, was soundly panned by the critics. It opened during the 1918 Flu Epidemic. Theater attendance was markedly down. The public was being warned to avoid crowds. Kaufman sarcastically advised his play’s producers to print advertisements with this message: “Avoid crowds: see Someone in the House.”
My favorite Kaufman quip is “I saw the play at a disadvantage. The curtain was up!”
Guys and Dolls opened at the 46th Street Theater (now the Richard Rodgers) on November 24, 1950 where it delighted audiences for 1200 performances. It was the recipient of five 1951 Tony Awards including Best Musical.
Susan Hogle and Gary Caswell photo by Wade Moran
On with the show! This beloved “musical fable of Broadway” has had countless productions over the years. Without hesitation, I can say that the Hale Centre Theatre’s Guys and Dolls is the best realized version of this masterwork that I have ever seen. This production’s uniform excellence is thanks, in no small part, to director Tregoney Shepherd. Shepherd has staged Guys and Dolls brilliantly. She has shepherded her large cast at a comical, breakneck pace, never losing sight of a joke nor romantic gesture, never allowing the evening even the slightest sag between musical numbers.
Susan Hogle suffers Adelaide’s Lament photo by Wade Moran
The wonderful large ensemble is dominated by the three comically joyous performances of Susan Hogle, as the chronically sneezing, engaged for perpetuity, Miss Adelaide, Gary Caswell as her frustrating, always scheming fiancé of 14 long Kleenex ridden years, Nathan Detroit and our authors’ own nod to Falstaff, David Rogers, as side kick extraordinaire Nicely Nicely Johnson. Ms. Hogle’s Adelaide is a joy to behold. Her comic timing is breathtaking, especially in her hysterical and touching delivery of Adelaide’s Lament. Caswell’s Nathan is a rumpled comic mess. His befuddled frustration at trying to find a place to hold his “floating” crap game is a constant source of comical pleasure. Rogers’ comedic timing is faultless. His raucous delivery of the show’s classic 11 o’clock number Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat rocks the house with the audience’s thunderous, show stopping approval.
The rousing Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat photo by Wade Moran
The romantic leads here are ably played by Rob Stuart as Sky Masterson and Jessica Godber as Sarah Brown. Both Stuart and Masterson have fine voices and make beautiful music performing Loesser’s lovely ballads. Their versions of I’ll Know and I’ve Never Been in Love Before make it Valentine’s Day every night.
Rebecca Willcox has designed a fantastic array of colorful, amusing costumes relevant to the show’s period. Willcox’s work is a dizzy, ditsy nod to Christian Dior, the era’s dominant Parisian go-to couturier.
All hail the Hale Centre Theatre’s magnificent and memorable Guys and Dolls! Bring a box of Kleenex as you will be crying non-stop tears of joy. Sadly, Miss Adelaide can not share hers as she never has enough to go around thanks to Nathan!
The finale, lovers united photo by Wade Moran
For ticket information, please contact the Hale Centre Theatre box office.
Hale Centre Theatre 50 West Page Ave, Gilbert AZ 85233 480-497-1181