When you think of the perfect musical comedy, what do you think of? Avenue Q? Spamalot? Or maybe something like The Producers? You would be wrong; according to Musical Theatre International, the perfect musical comedy is the 1950s musical Guys and Dolls.
Guys and Dolls is based on Damon Runyon's short stories about characters in the New York underworld in the 1920s and 30s. The main stories are The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure. Runyon was known for his unique dialect in his stories, mixing highly formal language and slang.
In the late 1940s, Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin hired Frank Loesser as the composer and lyricist for Guys and Dolls. Loesser was known for his work on other movie musicals such as Charley's Aunt and Neptune's Daughter, which featured the Christmas hit "Baby, It's Cold Outside" and won the Academy Award for Best Original Song. Abe Burrows wrote the show's book/dialogue after the original script by Jo Swerling was deemed unusable.
Guys and Dolls revolves around gambler Nathan Detroit, who tries to find the cash to set up the biggest craps game in town while the authorities breathe down his neck; meanwhile, his girlfriend and nightclub performer, Adelaide, laments that they've been engaged for fourteen years. Nathan turns to fellow gambler Sky Masterson, for the dough, and Sky ends up chasing the straight-laced missionary, Sarah Brown, as a result.
Guys and Dolls opened on Broadway on October 14, 1950, starring Robert Alda, Isabel Bigley, Sam Levene, and Vivian Blaine; and ran for 1,200 performances and won five Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Guys and Dolls opened to unanimously positive reviews. Many critics asserted that Guys and Dolls was of great significance to musical theatre. John Chapman, then Chief Theatre Critic of the New York Daily News, stated
"Frank Loesser has written a score that will get a big play on the jukeboxes, over the radio, and in restaurants throughout the land. His lyrics are especially notable in that they help Burrows's topical gags to further the plot"... In all departments, Guys and Dolls is a perfect musical comedy.
Five years later, a film version of Guys and Dolls was released starring Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Jean Simmons, and Vivian Blaine, reprising her role as Adelaide.
There was a lot of drama in the casting of Marlon Brando, mainly by Sinatra. Sinatra felt snubbed because Brando got the role of Sky Masterson, which Sinatra thought he deserved. Soon the cast and crew were divided between "Team Brando" and "Team Sinatra," and eventually, Brando and Sinatra spoke to each other only through intermediaries. Loesser stated that he hated how Sinatra played Nathan Detroit, but he did write a song just for Sinatra in the film version. However, Loesser would die still refusing to see the film adaptation.
Loesser wasn't the only one who disliked Sinatra as Detroit. Stephen Sondheim, who wrote film reviews at that time, wrote this about Sinatra's performance:
"Sinatra ambles through his role as Nathan Detroit as though he were about to laugh at the jokes in the script. He has none of the sob in the voice, and the incipient ulcer in the stomach, that the part requires and Sam Levene supplied so hilariously on the stage. Sinatra sings on pitch, but colorlessly; Levene sang off pitch but acted while he sang. Sinatra's lackadaisical performance, his careless and left-handed attempt at characterization not only harm the picture immeasurably but indicate an alarming lack of professionality."
Despite the issues with the film, it was nominated for four Academy Awards, two BAFTA Awards, and the winner of two Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture for a Comedy or Musical.
Since then, Guys and Dolls has been revived several times on Broadway since the original run and is still getting nominated for awards. The most well-known is the 1992 revival that starred Nathan Lane and Nathan Detroit.
A London revival is set for February 2023.
Our very own Junction City Little Theater will be performing this 'perfect' musical on our stage at the beginning of September.
It hasn't had the film's drama, but many would argue that James Casey, who plays Sky Masterson, is a better singer than Brando and that his chemistry with Ashley Casey, who plays Sarah Brown, is palpable. Steve Milton as Nathan Detroit has the perfect swagger to be a real-life gangster, and Abbey Linton as Miss Adelaide shows everyone why she is the star of the Hot Box with her powerful voice.
James Casey (Sky Masterson) Ashley Casey (Miss Sarah Brown)
Steve Milton (Nathan Detroit) Abbey Linton (Miss Adelaide)
Tickets are available now at https://www.jcoperahouse.org/tickets or