New York dives and nightlife hotspots, gamblers and chorus girls and Salvation Army bands. Guys and Dolls is the quintessential American musical, the fast-paced, quick-witted story of well-meaning wise guys and the women who suffer their antics.
In October, Washington University’s Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences will present Guys and Dolls as its fall Mainstage production. Shows begin at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 10 and 11, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 12, in Edison Theatre, located in the Mallinckrodt Student Center, 6445 Forsyth Blvd. Performances continue the following weekend at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 17 and 18, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 19.
Tickets are $12 — $8 for students, senior citizens and Washington University faculty and staff — and are available through the Edison Theatre Box Office and all MetroTix outlets. For more information, call the Edison Theatre Box Office at (314) 935-6543.
Based on Damon Runyon’s short story “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown,” Guys and Dolls debuted on Broadway in 1950 and ran for 1,200 performances, the fifth-longest run in Broadway history. The story centers on Nathan Detroit (senior Dan Hirsh), proprietor of the longest-running floating craps game in New York City. Needing to raise $1,000 for a new location, Nathan bets high-roller Sky Masterson (music master’s candidate Clark Sturdevant) that Sky can’t take straitlaced mission worker Sarah Brown (senior Laura Ernst) to Havana for dinner. Complications ensue, however, as Sky develops genuine feelings for Sarah and the mission, saving few souls in raucous Times Square, faces imminent closure.
Also starring are junior Kameron Averitt as Adelaide, Detroit’s long-suffering fiancé; junior Damien Cortese as his confederate Benny Southstreet; and junior Brian Stojak as Big Jule, a gun-toting Chicago gangster.
“Guys and Dolls is the perfect musical comedy,” said director Jeffery S. Matthews, senior artist-in-residence, who directs the cast of 33. “There’s a kind of aura around this show — it’s very sweet, very sentimental and romantic but also terribly funny — and audiences love it. It takes this Runyon-esque world of gamblers and shady characters and makes them into heroes.”
Music and lyrics are by Broadway legend Frank Loesser, who also scored The Most Happy Fella (1956) and How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961). Songs include such classic showstoppers as “The Oldest Established” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” as well as “Luck Be a Lady,” “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “Marry the Man Today.”
“Loesser’s music is wonderful and very challenging, but we have a strong group of singers who can really handle it,” Matthews pointed out, noting that both Most Happy Fella and How to Succeed have enjoyed recent campus productions. “The role of Sarah is quite difficult but Laura Ernst does it beautifully, while Dan Hirsch is very funny and dynamic on stage and just chews the scenery as Nathan.”
Matthews added that though the script — largely by Abe Burrows, who wrote How to Succeed, with Jo Swerling, screenwriter for Pride of the Yankees (1942) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)— is often, almost irresistibly played for laughs, it also contains a surprisingly deep wealth of feeling.
“The jokes are extremely light and funny but there’s more to it than that,” he said. “There are also these very touching, heartfelt moments, and that’s an aspect I see touched upon too rarely in college productions. The audience can really care about these characters, as well as laugh at them.”
Set design, by Christopher Pickart, artist-in-residence, offers a romantic, over-the-top-colorful vision of Times Square as a land of bright marquees and neon signage. Costumes, by William Ivey Long, are largely rented from the 1992 Broadway revival starring Nathan Lane, with additional design work by Bonnie Kruger, senior artist-in-residence. Lighting is by David Vogel, artist-in-residence. Musical director is Lisa Campbell, teacher of applied music, who has assembled a small orchestra.