Goodspeed's "Guys and Dolls": What, the Fugue?

Jordan Grubb, Noah Plomgren & Scott Cote in "Guys and Dolls"
(photo: Diane Sobolewski)

You know you're not in Kansas anymore when the opening number of a musical is entitled “Fugue for Tinhorns”. Goodspeed Opera House's first production of the season is the much-beloved 1950 musical “Guys and Dolls, A Musical Fable of Broadway”, with Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser and Book by Abe Burrows (who rewrote the book by Jo Swerling) based on the popular underworld stories of Damon Runyon. Its original Broadway incarnation won five Tony Awards including Best Musical, and ran for an incredible1200 performances. It also was chosen to receive the Pulitzer Prize, until the Pulitzer board learned of Burrows' contretemps with the House Un-American Activities Committee. It has seen several successful revivals since, and was made into a largely forgettable 1955 film that miscast Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Frank Sinatra. The play, praised for its faithfulness to the source material in style, characterizations and above all Runyon's depiction of the patois of the world of really-off-track-betting, it has endured in large part due to its unbelievably melodic and topical score. Besides its title song, there are such wonderful hits as “Luck Be a Lady”, “I've Never Been in Love Before”, “I'll Know (When My Love Comes Along)”, and “If I Were a Bell.” Then there are the comic songs such as “Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat”, “Sue Me”, “The Oldest Established (Permanent Floating Crap Game)” and, perhaps the ultimate showstopper, “Adelaide's Lament”. It's no wonder most experts include it as one of the handful of all-time best Broadway musicals.

The musical magic begins, as noted above, with that groundbreaking opener, “Fugue for Tinhorns”, a very complex (for Broadway, anyway) contrapuntal composition that perfectly sets up the story to follow. Having been thrown out of the local Save-a-Soul Mission for conducting an illegal crap game there, Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Scott Cote), Rusty Charlie (Jordan Grubb) and Benny Southstreet (Noah Plomgren) and their boss Nathan Detroit (Mark Price) need money to relocate, so Nathan makes a bet with inveterate gambler Sky Masterson (Tony Roach) about taking a “doll” to dinner in Havana (how topical), with Sergeant Sarah Brown (Manna Nichols) of the mission as the target of the bet. Nathan leaves to attend the night club act of his “doll”, Adelaide (Nancy Anderson) while Sky makes a very unsuccessful play for Sarah, even though promising to send the mission a dozen sinners. Sarah relents under pressure from her boss, General Cartwright (Karen Murphy) to produce genuine sinners, and flies off to Cuba with Sky, realizing once there (in Bacardi veritas) that she's in love with him. On their return, she realizes just where the floating game drifted, namely her beloved mission, and assumes that's why Sky got her out of town. She complains to her mission co-worker, Arvide (John Jellison), but he urges her to follow her heart. Meanwhile in the sewers of the city, Sky falsely states that he failed to take Sarah to Cuba and makes a bet to all present, including Chicago gangster Big Julie (Jerry Gallagher), of $1000 each against their attendance at the mission. Sky wins, the gamblers attend a mission service, the local cops led by Lt. Brannigan (David Sitler) are satisfied, and everyone ends up a winner, Sarah with Sky, Adelaide with Nathan.

Simple, yes? Deceptively so, as the show calls for a secure grasp of what the Runyonland folk are really like, especially with respect to the lower-level New York accents. (Many are those amateur versions that “rock the boat” in the wrong way). It also calls for respectful hands that can balance the seemly with the seedy, the lyricism with the lowlifes. In this production, all of the above are in quite capable hands. The Direction by Don Stephenson and Choreography by Alex Sanchez are just plain marvelous, with extraordinary attention to detail. The cast is uniformly great, with excellent diction from all, most notably the hilarious Price and Anderson (the latter unforgettable in her rendition of “Adelaide's Lament”). The technical aspects, from the perfect Costume Design by Tracy Christensen, the beautiful Set Design by Paul Tate de Poo III (including a neon-lit Times Square complete with the old smoking Camel billboard), expert Lighting Design by Stephen Terry, Sound Design by Jay Hilton, Music Direction by Michael O'Flaherty, and Orchestrations by Dan DeLange, all hit the high standard for which Goodspeed is deservedly famous. It's a glorious night at the theater, far above and beyond all the other floating crap games around.

And need one be gently reminded that, for Boston residents, Goodspeed is a mere two hours away? You've got the house right here. As for the prospects of this extraordinary show selling out the house if you don't make your move soon: You betcha.

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