MSMT's "Guys and Dolls": What the Fugue?

The Cast of "Guys and Dolls" in the number "Luck Be a Lady Tonight"
(photo: Roger S. Duncan)

As this site has noted in the past, you know you're not in Kansas anymore when the opening number of a musical is entitled “Fugue for Tinhorns”, and it's still true, as Maine State Music Theater in Brunswick presents 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 first draft 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 incredible 1200 performances. It also was about to be 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 a dozen and a half wonderful hits, such 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 show-stopper, “Adelaide's Lament”. It's no wonder most experts include it as one of the handful of all-time best Broadway musicals.

The Cast of "Guys & Dolls" in the "Crapshooters' Dance"
(photo: Roger S. Duncan)
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. In a mythical New York, having been thrown out of the local Save-a-Soul Mission for conducting an illegal crap game there, Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Steve Gagliastro), Rusty Charlie (Raymond Marc Dumont) and Benny Southstreet (Brad Bradley) and their boss Nathan Detroit (James Beaman) need money to relocate, so Nathan makes a bet with inveterate gambler Sky Masterson (Stephen Mark Lucas) about taking a “doll” to dinner in Havana (how topical as well as tropical), with Sergeant Sarah Brown (Kristen Hahn) of the mission as the target of the bet. Nathan leaves to attend the night club act of his “doll”, Adelaide (Charis Leos), to whom he's been engaged for fourteen years, 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 (Cathy Newman) 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 (Glenn Anderson), 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 (Danny Rutigliano), of $1000 each against their attendance at the mission. Sky wins, the gamblers attend a mission service, the local cops led by Lt. Brannigan (Joe Gately) 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, the Direction and Choreography by DJ Salisbury are superb, with many fine touches. The cast is up to the challenge, from the first note delivered by the outstanding Bradley with memorable performances by all, most notably the hilarious Beaman (an IRNE winner for Nice Work If You Can Get It at Ogonquit Playhouse) and Leos (the latter unforgettable in her rendition of “Adelaide's Lament”). The technical aspects, from the tongue-in-cheek Costume Design by Ryan Moller, inventive Scenic Design by Robert Andrew Kovach, Lighting Design by Annemarie Duggan, Sound Design by Shannon Slaton, and the Music Direction by Brian Cimmet are all terrific. Fair warning: there's little subtlety in the telling, but it's prime rubber chicken comedy nonetheless, right down to Nicely-Nicely Johnson's trombone turn. The chemistry between Lukas and Hahn is palpable. It's a glorious night at the theater, playing through July 15, far above and beyond all the other floating crap games around.

And need one be gently reminded that, for Boston residents, MSMT is a mere hour and a half or so away by car (or, more relaxing, Amtrak's NorEaster)? You've got the house right here.

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