Guys and Dolls
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A Musical Fable of Broadway
Based on a Story and Characters
of Damon Runyon
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
December 26, 2015–
Broadway's bouncy musical about gamblers and the gals who love them.
A treasure-trove of songs:
• Luck Be a Lady
• A Bushel and a Peck
Suitable for ages 8 and older
including one intermission
Drawing from the well
by Michael Kotze
Runyonesque (adjective): Reminiscent of Damon Runyon (1880–1946), American newspaperman and writer, best known for his short stories celebrating the world of Broadway in New York City that grew out of the Prohibition era, esp. characterized by plot or language suggestive of gangsters or the New York underworld.
IT IS 1949, and even a mug like me can tell there is romance in the air, particularly on 44th Street, just east of 8th Avenue, where Rodgers and Hammerstein’s high-class musical show, South Pacific, is presently packing in the public. I have seen this musical show. Its principal doll is a chipper little nurse from Little Rock, and her guy (whom she would have you know is a wonderful guy) is a cultured Frenchman hailing from France, the kind of guy who drinks his brandy from a snifter the size of a cantaloupe, and swirls it around in this snifter first, to show you he knows what he’s doing. It is obvious (even to a mug like me) that they are mismatched lovers, and under normal circumstances would never even meet, much less get so cozy in front of 1,500 paying customers eight times a week.
I have heard from my friends in the business of show that other would-be purveyors of high-class musical shows are taking note of this mismatched lovers gimmick, and deem it a good gimmick. Surely, they opine, there is more water to be drawn from the well from which Rodgers and Hammerstein and their many happy investors are now drinking so deeply, and these would-be purveyors of high-class musical shows demand that half-a-dozen pairs of mismatched lovers be on their desks by Monday morning. I only hope they have very large desks.
So begins another musical fable of Broadway; if it sounds a bit Runyonesque, we’ll soon discover why.
Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin were a fledging Broadway producing team with one show under their belt, 1948’s Where’s Charley? When it opened, it appeared it would be their last; the critics were not kind, and Feuer and Martin were resigned to closing it. But the public was so taken by Ray Bolger’s starring performance that word of mouth grew and grew, and Where’s Charley? ending up running two years, despite the critics.
So in 1949, when the team was looking around for their next project, it happened that Mrs. Martin had been reading a collection of Damon Runyon stories titled Guy and Dolls. When Martin said those three little words to Feuer over the telephone, both men knew they had something.
Damon Runyon was born in Kansas, but his stories of gamblers, gangsters and goniffs have made him the quintessential bard of 20s and 30s New York City. The colorful and eccentric turns of phrase he created for his lovable low-lifes have often been imitated, but even the most adroit imitators inevitably find their work described as “Runyonesque.”
The next Nellie and Emile
In his story “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown,” Feuer and Martin found their mismatched lovers: the eponymous Miss Brown, a pretty young mission worker determined to save souls in Prohibition-era New York, and the gambler “Sky” Masterson, so called because the sky is the limit when he’s betting. In addition to this principal pair, the story had everything the producers were looking for: colorful supporting characters and an exotic (yet plausible) backdrop with danger and excitement to serve as an effective contrast to the romance. It would appear that Feuer and Martin had not set out to make Guys and Dolls a comedy, but rather a romantic musical play in the style of South Pacific.
But, as we shall see, fate had other ideas. Perhaps that fate was sealed when they took on their first collaborator—composer and lyricist Frank Loesser. Loesser had built his career mainly in Hollywood, and in 1949 took home the Academy Award for Best Song with his ever-popular “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” He had just made his Broadway composing debut with Where’s Charley? and Feuer and Martin were eager to have him back. His Hollywood connections turned out to be helpful, since the rights to Runyon’s stories were held by Paramount Pictures. With the help of Loesser’s agents, the producers returned to Broadway with the rights to “Sarah Brown” firmly in hand.
While in Hollywood, they also bagged a book writer: Jo Swerling, a distinguished screenwriter whose credits included Pride of the Yankees and Lifeboat, in addition to contributing scenes to Gone with the Wind and It’s a Wonderful Life. This Academy Award nominee set to work…but the work did not go well. Swerling was unable to capture the right Runyonesque tone in his dialogue; what looked great on the page sounded stilted when read aloud. The mix of the fanciful and gritty that made Runyon Runyon just wasn’t there. Feuer and Martin brought in many other writers to see what they could do, but no one could crack the nut.
Eventually Swerling was let go, and his entire book discarded. Ironically, his contract turned out to be a kind of masterpiece; to this day, he receives credit as co-writer of Guys and Dolls, though none of his work was used.
Songs wag dog
Feuer, Martin and Loesser pondered their next move. They knew they had a show in there somewhere, but just couldn’t find it. Their position was like that a novice sculptor tasked with creating a bust of George Washington---all there was to it was to get a block of marble and chip away the bits that didn’t look like George Washington. But the trouble was, that they weren’t even sure what George Washington looked like.
Everyone agreed Loesser’s songs were good, even great. But they had a lighter, more whimsical tone than the dark, gritty romance the producers had originally conceived. Since they were so good, why not let them guide the way? Feuer and Martin set out to get a new book, written around the songs Loesser had already created. It was unconventional, but conventional was not getting the job done. Then they found their writer.
Abe Burrows had never written for the theater, but enjoyed a successful career writing for radio. His work on the comedy series Duffy’s Tavern demonstrated his mastery of stylized comic dialogue for working-stiff New Yorkers.
Burrows and Loesser really clicked, with Burrows writing elegant and effective lead-ins to Loesser’s songs, and Loesser writing new material inspired by Burrows’ terrific dialogue. Guys and Dolls was turning into something very special: joyful, funny, and yes—Runyonesque. The producers, satisfied with the progress, took things to the next level by bringing in a director. And not just any director—they aimed for the very top.
George S. Kaufman was a show business legend. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, acclaimed director and renowned wit of the Algonquin Round Table, Kaufman was not an easy catch, especially considering he had never directed a musical. But after reading the first four scenes, Kaufman signed on as director of Guys and Dolls. This co-author of You Can’t Take It With You and The Man Who Came to Dinner knew his way around comedy, and soon made suggestions to Burrows that would transform the show: beef up the role of Nathan Detroit, give him a fiancée, the unforgettable Miss Adelaide, and accord them the same leading couple status as Sarah and Sky. According to Feuer, Kaufman even suggested the pair had been engaged 14 years.
A flurry of rewrites under Kaufman’s supervision continued, until at last Loesser and Burrows’ labors produced what might be the closest thing to musical comedy perfection ever achieved. This “Musical Fable of Broadway” (as the show was subtitled) opened to the kind of reviews rarely given musical comedies, with words like “art” and and “masterpiece” cropping up regularly. Frank Loesser’s reputation skyrocketed, with some critics even reassessing his work on Where’s Charley? and deciding they had overlooked its high quality the first time around.
It’s not where you start
Feuer and Martin, now with two hits under their collective belts, continued to produce Broadway musicals for decades to come. Abe Burrows began a second successful career writing and directing musicals, and never stopped saying that everything he knew, he learned from working with George S. Kaufman. Kaufman, for his troubles, went home with the year’s Tony Award for Best Director.
It hadn’t been easy, but somehow all their missteps, doubts, wrong turns and scrapped work yielded a masterpiece that appears effortless. Such is the nature of fable, where tortoises can outrun hares, geese lay golden eggs, and a bunch of guys setting out to produce another South Pacific wind up giving the world Guys and Dolls.
Meet the cast after the matinee
No RSVP needed—just join us at Cahn Auditorium
after the Saturday or Wednesday matinee below
Saturday, December 26, 2015 • 4:45 pm (after the matinee)
Wednesday, December 30 • 4:45 pm (after the matinee)
TalkBack with cast after the matinee. Bring the young people
in your life to the show, then meet the performers afterward!
Contact: Christopher A. Riley
(847) 920-5354 ext. 10 (press only)
LIGHT OPERA WORKS presents
GUYS AND DOLLS
December 26, 2015 - January 3, 2016
Light Opera Works
GUYS AND DOLLS
Music by Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows
Based on a Story and Characters of Damon Runyon
Directed by Rudy Hogenmiller
Choreographed by Clayton Cross
Conducted by Shawn Stengel
Press Opening: Saturday, December 26, 2015 at 2 pm
Second Press Opening: Saturday, December 26 at 8 pm
Sunday, December 27 at 2 pm
Wednesday, December 30 at 2 pm
Thursday, December 31 at 8 pm (New Year’s Eve)
Friday, January 1, 2016 at 8 pm
Saturday, January 2, at 8 pm
Sunday, January 3, at 2 pm
600 Emerson Street, Evanston, IL
Main Floor $49, $69, $79, $94
Balcony $34, $49, $69, $79
New Year’s Eve - $36, $51, $71 $81, $96
Ages 21 and younger half-price (suitable for 8 and older)
Evanston, IL: Light Opera Works presents Frank Loesser’s GUYS AND DOLLS with 24-piece orchestra, December 26, 2015 through January 3, 2016, at Cahn Auditorium in Evanston.
The Tony Award-winning musical about love, comedy and high stakes includes the classic songs “Luck Be a Lady,” “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”
GUYS AND DOLLS is considered by many to be the perfect musical, with a cast of vivid characters: Sarah Brown, the upright but uptight “mission doll,” out to reform the evil-doers of Times Square; Sky Masterson, the slick, high-rolling gambler who woos her on a bet to Cuba and ends up falling in love; Adelaide, the chronically ill nightclub performer whose condition is brought on by the fact she’s been engaged to the same man for 14 years; and Nathan Detroit, her devoted fiancé, desperate as always to find a spot for his infamous floating crap game.
The production is directed by Light Opera Works artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller, choreographed by Clayton Cross and conducted by Shawn Stengel.
The cast includes Elizabeth Telford (Sarah Brown), Justin Adair (Sky Masterson), Sarah Larson (Miss Adelaide) and Steve Silver (Nathan Detroit).
The design/production team includes Adam Veness (scenic), Brenda Winstead (costumes), Andrew H. Meyers (lighting), Aaron Quick (sound), Alice Salazar (hair and make-up),Tom Campbell (stage manager) and Katie Beeks (production manager).
The opening night reception for GUYS AND DOLLS is sponsored by Smylie Brothers Brewing Co., Evanston.
Ticket prices for GUYS AND DOLLS range from $34 to $96. Ages 21 and younger are half price. To order tickets, or for more information, visit the Light Opera Works box office at 516 4th Street in Wilmette, call (847) 920-5360, or order 24 hours a day online at www.LightOperaWorks.com
Director/Music Director/Choreographer Biographies
RUDY HOGENMILLER (Director), artistic director of Light Opera Works, was seen on stage in June as Mr. Applegate in DAMN YANKEES and the Emcee in CABARET last August. Hogenmiller has directed and choreographed many productions for the company including HOLLYWOOD’S GREATEST SONG HITS, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE FANTASTICS, THE MERRY WIDOW, COLE PORTER’S GREATEST HITS, FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, H.M.S. PINAFORE, OLIVER!, MAN OF LA MANCHA, CAMELOT, BRIGADOON, HELLO, DOLLY!, MY FAIR LADY, THE YEOMEN OF THE GUARD, A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE, KISS ME, KATE, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE MIKADO and THE SOUND OF MUSIC. He has been recognized with six Joseph Jefferson Awards and 17 nominations for best direction and choreography in Chicago. Hogenmiller has been a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers for more than 25 years.
SHAWN STENGEL (Music Director/Conductor) makes his Light Opera Works debut. A nationally-known music director, Shawn conducted the Chicago productions of BILLY ELLIOT and WICKED at the Oriental Theatre, was music director/conductor for the national tours of CRAZY FOR YOU, AND THE WORLD GOES ‘ROUND, and CATS, played keyboard for Kander & Ebb’s THE VISIT, Sondheim’s BOUNCE (Goodman), MAMMA MIA!, CHICAGO, and PETER PAN with Cathy Rigby, and was music director for the premiere season of Paramount’s Broadway Series, where he conducted MY FAIR LADY, JOSEPH…DREAMCOAT, A CHORUS LINE, MISS SAIGON and RENT. Other Chicago music direction credits include Jeff nominations at the Marriott and Pegasus, plus Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Northlight, Briar Street and the Royal George. Shawn’s directing credits include PUMP BOYS AND DINETTES (Drury Lane Oakbrook and Stage West), LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, ALWAYS…PATSY CLINE, RADIO GALS (Peninsula Players), OIL CITY SYMPHONY (New Mexico Rep), SWEENEY TODD (LZP), and last season’s CATS (Paramount). Shawn is originally from Brainerd, Minnesota, and is a University of Minnesota graduate.
CLAYTON CROSS (Choreographer) works nationwide as a choreographer, performer and master teacher. At Light Opera Works, he was the Mute in THE FANTASTICKS and a featured dancer in DAMN YANKEES. Recently, he was a Cagelle in Marriott Theatre's LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Clayton served for five years as artistic advisor, board member and choreographer for Renegade Dance Architects and continues to consult and contribute choreography to the Capitol One Bowl’s ALL AMERICAN HALFTIME SHOW. Clayton is a master teacher for M.A. Dance, a Texas based traveling convention circuit, where he has worked and judged for the last 17 years. Throughout his 20-year career as a dancer he has worked with Robert Battle, Fernando Bujones, Frank Chaves, Paul Taylor and Ann Reinking. Clayton was featured in EVERY DANCER HAS A STORY, a PBS special about the River North Chicago Dance Company, where he was a company member for nine seasons, and toured nationally and internationally. Originally from Midland, Texas, he received his early training there from La Petite Dance Company, Coleman Academy, and the Midland Community Theatre. Clayton holds a BFA in ballet and modern dance from Texas Christian University.
ELIZABETH TELFORD (Sarah Brown) makes her Light Opera Works debut in GUYS AND DOLLS. A native of Georgia, she received her BFA in musical theatre from Shorter University. Chicago credits include OCTOBER SKY, LA CAGE AUX FOLLES and ON THE TOWN (Marriott Theatre), SENSE AND SENSIBILITY (Chicago Shakespeare Theater), CHRISTMAS ON THE AIR (Provision Theatre), HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING (Porchlight Music Theatre), TRIUMPH OF LOVE and DO I HEAR A WALTZ? (The Music Theatre Company), and MYTHS AND HYMNS (Boho Theatre). Regionally, Elizabeth has performed with Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Skylight Music Theatre, First Stage Theatre, and the Utah Shakespeare Festival. She is represented by Paonessa Talent.
JUSTIN ADAIR (Sky Masterson) returns to Light Opera Works after making his debut as Lt. Joseph Cable in SOUTH PACIFIC. He was seen as Barrett in Griffin Theatre’s TITANIC (Jeff Nomination, Actor in a Supporting Role--Musical). Other Chicago credits include: Fabrizio in THE LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA (Jeff Award, Actor in a Supporting Role--Musical) and SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ (Jeff Nomination, Ensemble) at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, LES MISÉRABLES (Drury Lane Theatre); and JUNO (TimeLine Theatre). With Chicago Opera Vanguard, he played Eddie in the Chicago premiere of GREEK and Jimmy in THE SUITCASE: AN OPERA, which the company took to Belfast, Northern Ireland. Justin also spent a summer with the College Light Opera Company in Cape Cod for their 2011 season. He is a graduate of Roosevelt University’s Chicago College of Performing Arts and holds an Associate's in Fine Arts from the College of DuPage. www.justinadair.com
SARAH LARSON (Miss Adelaide) returns to Light Opera Works after appearing in HOLLYWOOD’S GREATEST SONG HITS and as Nellie Forbush in SOUTH PACIFIC. Other Chicago credits include A MARVIN HAMLISCH SONGBOOK, A MUSICAL TRIBUTE TO THE ANDREWS SISTERS and PASSION, with Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, THE 48-HOUR MUSICALS and OSCAR & RICHARD & JOE with the Music Theatre Company and the role of Marian Paroo in THE MUSIC MAN with Timber Lake Playhouse. Ms. Larson is a graduate of Viterbo University, where she double-majored in Music Theatre Performance and Arts Administration.
STEVE SILVER (Nathan Detroit) makes his Light Opera Works debut in GUYS AND DOLLS. His recent Chicago credits include 1984 (understudy, Steppenwolf Theatre) THE OTHER PLACE (Profiles Theatre); ALL SHOOK UP (Theatre at the Center); BELLS ARE RINGING (Porchlight Music Theatre); the U.S. premiere of FROM UP HERE (Towle Theater); SYLVIA and IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A RADIO PLAY (Oil Lamp Theater); and the world premiere of A CRIME IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (City Lit Theater). Film and television credits include CHICAGO FIRE as well as several independent films. Originally from Tampa, Florida, Steve moved to Chicago two summers ago after living in Japan for nearly a decade. He has studied extensively with master teachers Kathryn Gately and Richard Poole, and is represented by Actors Talent Group.
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Light Opera Works is a resident professional not-for-profit theater in Evanston, founded in 1980. The company's mission is to produce and present musical theater from a variety of world traditions. All productions are presented in English, with foreign works done in carefully edited modern translations. Maximum scholarship is employed to preserve the original vocal and orchestral material as well as the spirit of the original text whenever possible. Audiences have come to know that at Light Opera Works they will experience repertoire often unavailable on the stages of commercial theaters and opera houses, in modern productions with professional artists and full orchestra.
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Light Opera Works’ mission is to produce musical theater from a variety of world traditions, to engage the community through educational and outreach programs, and to train artists in musical theater.
January 1. 2016
By Hedy Weiss
Light Opera Works’ “Guys and Dolls” reminder of Broadway’s “Golden Age”
Light Opera Works’ production of “Guys and Dolls,” the Frank Loesser musical that easily ranks among the very best musicals of the “Golden Age” of Broadway, has just three performances remaining – Fri. and Sat. at 8 p.m. and Sun. at 2 p.m. at Evanston’s Cahn Auditorium. And to cut to the chase: There could be no better way to welcome in the New Year than to catch this show which features a full orchestra, a huge cast, and a show-stopping performance by Justin Adair as that urbane gambler, Sky Masterson – a performance that marks the full emergence of a musical theater actor of formidable talent and individuality.
It’s a good bet you know the drill when it comes to this “musical fable of Broadway” with its street-savvy book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows based on a story and characters by Damon Runyon, the journalist and author who captured the distinctive patois of Times Square denizens- from zoot-suited criminals and scantily clad showgirls to sin-scrubbing members of the Salvation Army. And of course Loesser matched Runyon beat-for-beat (and colloquialism for colloquialism) with his brilliant score that includes everything from the multilayered “Fugue for Tinhorns,” to the lyrical “I’ll Know” and “If I Were a Bell,” to the comical “Adelaide’s Lament,” to the raucous “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”
Sinners meet soul-savers here as the fates of two couples are played out in scenes of comic anguish and romantic surprise. Gambler Nathan Detroit (Steve Silver), is forever in a panic as he searches for a site for one of his crap games, and forever trying to dodge a formal marriage to his beloved, Miss Adelaide (Sarah Larson), star of the Hot Box nightclub. Meanwhile, a most unlikely new romance is kindled when gambler Sky Masterson (Adair), bets Detroit that he can lure the very proper Salvation Army soul-saver Sarah Brown (Elizabeth Telford, a powerhouse soprano), on a date to Havana, Cuba.
The Light Opera Works production has the overall feel of the 1940s, with its elaborate painted sets by Adam Veness (deftly lit by Andrew H. Meyers), and period costumes by Brenda Winstead. And director Rudy Hogenmiller has cast the production ideally, with choreographer Clayton Cross and his sassy ensemble injecting great zest into both “Runyonland,” the opening “street scene” that is pure dance storytelling, and “Havana,” which easily conjures the island’s days as a swinging getaway for New Yorkers. Veteran musical director Shawn Stengel (in his Light Opera conducting debut ), gets just the right brassy sound from his orchestra.
But it is Adair’s stunning performance as Masterson that leaves the strongest imprint here. Lean and unaffected, with a striking baritone voice that leaves far more famous performers in the dust, he grabs hold of “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” with a ferocity and intensity that is thrilling on every level. He also brings a masterful interpretation to his beautifully contemplative, soul-baring take on “My Time of Day.” Adair has soared in many storefront turns at Theo Ubique Cabaraet and beyond, but this is a breakout moment.
Silver and Larson pair ideally in the zesty spat, “Sue Me.” And Larson and Telford bring sparkle and wit to “Marry the Man Today,” the song that reveals their acquired knowledge about taming a man. As gambler Nicely Nicely Johnson, Cary Lovett does a rollicking job with that raise-the-roof reform anthem, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat.” Repentance, as it turns out, can be immense fun.
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December 28, 2015
By Albert Williams
Strong musical values propel Light Opera Works' enjoyable staging of this classic 1950 musical comedy about Times Square gamblers and the ladies who love them. Based on stories by humorist Damon Runyon, the hilarious and tuneful show focuses on two improbable romances—the pursuit of straitlaced Salvation Army sergeant Sarah Brown (Elizabeth Telford) by slick womanizer Sky Masterson (the dynamic Justin Adair) and the 14-year "engagement" of nightclub dancer Miss Adelaide (Sarah Larson) to Nathan Detroit (Steve Silver), proprietor of "the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York." A full orchestra conducted by Shawn Stengel brings out the lush lyricism and jazzy crackle of songwriter Frank Loesser's melodic and rhythmically charged score, and the choral harmonies are crisp and tight in showstopping tunes such as Sky's driving "Luck Be a Lady" and the gospel-tinged "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," with its clarion lead vocal by Cary Lovett as lovable Nicely-Nicely Johnson.
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December 28, 2015
By Jacob Davis
New Talent Keeps an Old Favorite Vital
I’ve seen Light Opera Works do such a fine job producing classic Broadway musicals, I could hardly believe that this is the thirty-five year-old company’s first Guys and Dolls. Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows’ 1950 adaptation of the short stories of early twentieth century reporter Damon Runyon seems like the perfect show for a company that specializes in presenting entire scores with a full twenty-four piece orchestra. But maybe it was better that artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller waited until his company was truly ready, for with its lush, beautiful design, powerful singers who are also excellent actors, and intricate choreography by Clayton Cross, a better production of Guys and Dolls than this one is difficult to imagine.
The show is subtitled “A Musical Fable of Broadway,” and Light Opera Works’ website contains a history by business manager Michael Kotze of how the show developed into a quirky, satirical comedy, rather contrary to its original producers intent. (Guys and Dolls was also selected for the Pulitzer Prize in 1951, but the advisory board vetoed the decision due to book writer Abe Burrows’ entanglement with the House Un-American Activities Committee). The story takes place in a neon Gotham, which we are introduced to in a dumb show featuring thieves, fences, con artists, dirty cops, and all manner of low-lives cheerfully cavorting to the tune of “Runyonland.” It is there that Nathan Detroit (Steve Silver) runs an itinerant game of craps, and Sarah Brown (Elizabeth Telford) leads the Save-a-Soul mission in futile attempts to Christianize New Yorkers. Currently under an unusual degree of scrutiny from the cops, Detroit needs a new venue for his craps game fast, but doesn’t have the money to rent one. His only hope is to bet Sky Masterson (Justin Adair), a handsome young professional gambler, that he won’t be able to convince Sarah Brown to go on a date with him that evening to Havana, Cuba.
Will love, forgiveness, and temperance triumph over greed, cowardice, and apathy? Well, yeah, but only with tongue-firmly-in-cheek. This is a Christian salvation story as told by Jewish comics, and if the tartan suits, impulsive round-trip to Havana in a single day, and thoroughly irritating missionary march “Follow the Fold,” aren’t enough to make obvious that Guys and Dolls isn’t meant to be taken at face-value, the famous show-stopping testimonial song “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” (hilariously delivered by Cary Lovett as Nicely-Nicely Johnson) certainly should be. I mention this because on the way out of the theatre, I overheard some other young people complaining that the show promotes regressive values. While that’s a bit like saying no self-respecting Coloradan could watch South Park, perhaps if Light Opera Works wants to expand their following into the under-sixty crowd, they’ll have to stop taking for granted that everybody already knows and understands these shows, and provide them with a bit more context. (Kotze’s online dramaturgical note about possible lingering tension in the script between the producers’ and writers’ visions would be a good place to start.)
Certainly, the young talent onstage has a great appreciation for their roles. Justin Adair, who played Lieutenant Cable in Light Opera Works’ production of South Pacific earlier this season, returns with his booming, melodious baritone to a role he imbues with high energy and steady charm. His rousing “Luck be a Lady” is more a command than a prayer, and he rolls his dice like he’s bowling during a number Cross has devised his most sinuous, fluid choreography for. He is rightly recognized as one of the Chicago musical scene’s greatest rising talents. Adair has a fine partner in Elizabeth Telford, whose powerful voice is matched by a keen comic sensibility. Watching Sarah Brown surprise and overwhelm Sky by breaking out of her shell in Havana is a real pleasure, as is her song “If I Were a Bell.” Steve Silver and Sarah Larson, as Nathan’s long-suffering fiancé Adelaide, make a second highly amusing pair, and all the dozens of ensemble members display great talent throughout the whole of the show in every aspect of their performances.
Shawn Stengel’s conducting of the full orchestra gives Frank Loesser’s jazzy score the joyous bounce it requires, and Aaron Quick’s sound design is so finely balanced, that Loesser’s clever lyrics are never lost, and Stengel must have taken care to emphasize the importance of diction to his actors. He and Burrows gave the characters distinctive verbal tics which fill out Guys and Dolls’ quirky world nicely, and the rest of Hogenmiller’s design team follows their lead by bathing the stage and its inhabitants in vibrant, gaudy, colors. I mentioned the tartan suits above, but Brenda Winstead’s outrageous costumes have to be seen to be believed, and Andrew H. Meyers’ dazzling lights move seductively with Cross’s choreography. Like The Merry Widow last year, Guys and Dolls is the perfect combination of beauty and mirth for celebrating the New Year. But this one’s humor has a lot more of a kick.
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Chicago Theater Beat
December 28, 2015
By John Olson
Funny, tuneful and touching as ever
It’s easy to forget how many times Times Square has been transformed. Now the center of New York’s tourism and home to Toys “R” Us and a Disney Store as well as family-friendly shows like The Lion King and Aladdin, from at least the 1960’s through the early 1990’s it was considered sleazy and a little dangerous. In the world of Damon Runyon, the writer of the stories on which Guys and Dolls is based, the vice in this neighborhood was colorful, charming and victimless. His many stories written and set in the Times Square of the 1920’s is a world of gamblers, strippers, hookers and the Salvation Army-type evangelists that sought to save them. In 1950, when this musical opened on Broadway, that world must have still seemed edgy at worst. It wouldn’t be until the late 1990’s when the darker, more dangerous Times Square of the 1980’s would be the setting for a musical (Cy Coleman’s The Life). In this musical by Abe Burrows, Jo Swerling and Frank Loesser, the saints and the sinners are both a little out there on the fringes and the writers found a winning commonality in the outsider-ness of these two communities, creating one of the earliest and most enduring of the Golden Age musicals. Light Opera Works seems to have an unstated mission to remount these classics in close to their original form – accompanied by a large orchestra (by today’s standards) and without any extraneous or show-offy directorial concept. Even the large, but apparently low-tech stage at Evanston’s Cahn Auditorium seems to suit the purpose perfectly – with enough room for large casts, but sets that rely heavily on backdrops and flats – no computerized, motorized sets, thank you – nor indulgences in projections. It’s a museum-like approach, to be sure, but then why would one want to re-imagine Guys and Dolls anyway?
Director Rudy Hogenmiller, along with scenic designer Adam Veness and costume designer Brenda Winstead, give us a colorful picture of the Times Square of the 1930’s. Veness’ set provides some lively backdrops that are composites of the sort of theater marquees and shops of the era, while Winstead drapes the Times Square denizens pastel zoot suits, chorus girl costumes and bright red uniforms for the crusaders of the “Save a Soul” mission. The cast does nicely with the double-talking humor of Burrows and Swerling’s book, but the main reason this musical lives on is its songs, and they’re well-served here. In the key roles of Guys and Dolls’ romantic couples are four strong singers. As Miss Adelaide, the ditzy night club singer unafraid to shed a few articles of clothing along with her act, Sarah Larson finds a sweet spot that pays homage to the character – a sort Betty Boop by way of Joan Blondell – without falling entirely into stereotype. She lands all the jokes in her dialogue and her comedy numbers like “A Bushel and a Peck” and “Take Back Your Mink.” As her paramour Nathan Detroit, a role that has been played by both Nathan Lane and Frank Sinatra, Steve Silver is relaxed and totally believable as the beleaguered crap game organizer. Both Justin Adair and Elizabeth Telford, as the less comic romantic couple – the gambler Sky Masterson and head “Save a Soul” Missionary Sarah Brown – have powerful voices that nail Loesser’s love ballads “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and “I’ll Know.” Acting-wise Telford’s Brown has a certain toughness that suits the character, but Adair’s Sky could lighten up a bit. He seems strong enough to command the respect of the other gamblers, for sure, but we don’t see the sense of humor and charm that would win over the ladies. His “Luck be a Lady” is powerful, but almost too desperate – particularly in comparison to the Frank Sinatra covers we’ve heard recently on the occasion of the Sinatra Centennial.
There’s nice supporting work from Cary Lovett in the Stubby Kaye role of Nicely-Nicely (who leads “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat” and “Fugue for Tinhorns”) along with Jim Heatherly’s Benny Southstreet and Rick Rapp’s Lt. Brannigan. The huge ensemble, though I didn’t always buy them as Times Square lowlifes, is solid on the choral work and especially on the dancing, with Clayton Cross providing snappy choreography on the extended dance sequences of “Runyonland,” “Havana,” and “The Crapshooter’s Dance” as well as Miss Adelaide’s nightclub sequences.
Guys and Dolls, which opened on Broadway in 1950, is a true Golden Age musical in its use of song and dance to help tell a story – and the Burrows/Swerling/Runyon story of long shots paying off and men succumbing to the charms and demands of women is a good one. It keeps its feet in an earlier era of musicals, though, by providing lots of music and dance for pure entertainment. At two hours, forty-five minutes, it’s a little long by today’s standards, but if it’s going to give you great music, impressive dancing, some classic 1950’s-style comedy (even with a few groaners) – all performed by some sexy guys and dolls. All in all, to quote one of the show’s song titles – “More I Cannot Wish You.” If you don’t agree, well, “sit down, you’re rockin’ the boat.”
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Chicagoland Musical Theatre
December 29, 2015
By Erin Fleming
Light Opera Works celebrates the holiday season with another classic gem of the American musical theatre canon, the Tony Awarding Guys and Dolls
What’s playing at the Cahn Auditorium?
I’ll tell you what’s playing at the Cahn Auditorium…Musical about New York gambler Nathan Detroit trying to organize a craps game while Adelaide his fiancee thinks his criminal activity is on a moratorium.
That’s what’s playing at the Cahn Auditorium.
What’s the news in Evanston?
I’ll tell you what’s the news in Evanston…Story about a guy betting another guy that he can woo the prim and proper missionary, Sarah Brown, and get her on a plane to Havana, way outta town ‘cause he’s got the luck of Sky Masterson.
That’s what’s the news in Evanston.
What’s happening on the Light Opera Works stage?
I’ll tell you what’s happening on the Light Opera Works stage…Amazing 24-piece orchestra conducted by Shawn Stengel, fantastic choreography by Clayton Cross, a book with some clever innuendo, directed by Rudy Hogenmiller so that it’s appropriate for any age.
That’s what’s happening on the Light Opera Works stage!
Take the family to see Guys and Dolls. It’s a big, bold, Tony Award-winning American musical featuring the classic songs “Bushel and a Peck,” “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”
The creative team (Scenic Designer Adam Veness, Costume Designer Brenda Winstead, Lighting Designer Andrew H. Meyers, Sound Designer Aaron Quick) create bold, colorful postcard pictures of New York City and Cuba—the perfect backdrop for big production numbers like “The Crapshooter’s Dance” and “Havana” that showcase the outstanding dancers.
The wonderful cast takes on this lavish production as a well-oiled ensemble. Standouts include Sarah Lawson, absolutely winning as Miss Adelaide, the long-suffering fiancee of Nathan Detroit, played by Steve Silver. Lawson’s rendition of “Adelaide’s Lament” is hilariously infectious. Elizabeth Telford shines as the conflicted Sarah Brown, lighting up the house with her slightly intoxicated and full-throated number “If I Were A Bell.” And, speaking of innuendo, Justin Adair’s Sky Masterson is charming enough to make any missionary rethink her position.
It’s a fun show with time-honored themes of love vs. independence and a deceptively simple message: if a guy finds redemption, either in finally getting married or going on the straight and narrow…call it dumb, call it clever, but you can get odds forever—that the guy’s only doing it for some doll.
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December 31, 2015
By James Murray
A Dazzling Guys and Dolls
Frank Loesser penned what is considered by many the perfect musical, running 1200 performances and garnering the Tony Award for Best Musical for 1950. With a book by Joe Swerling and Abe Burrows and based on Damon Runyon’s stories of The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown and Blood Pressure it tells the story of Miss Sarah Brown, her quest to convert the evil people of New York’s low life, and her expectantly falling in love with one of New York’s most well-known gamblers, Sky Masterson, who pursues her in order to win a bet. In the course of the musical we meet Nathan Detroit, another gambler who has been engaged to the Hot Box songbird Miss Adelaide for 14 years but has refused to wed her.
Guys and Dolls has one of the finest scores ever written for a Broadway musical, only to be rivaled by Jule Styne’s Gypsy. Hearing it performed with a stellar cast and orchestra under the superb baton of Shawn Stengel at Cahn Auditorium was a thrilling treat. Often revived it is seldom that I have seen the casting so spot on and director Rudy Hogemiller deserves the credit for finding men with faces that look like the gangsters one would see in 1950 New York. Combine that with the fact that they are extraordinary singers, actors and dancers and you have a rare combination that allows the production to fire on all cylinders.
With a uniformly stellar cast the real standouts that I want to mention are Cary Lovett’s Nicely-Nicely Johnson (a part he was born to play and he plays it to perfection), Justin Adair’s Sky Masterson (beautifully sung and with the needed sex appeal for the role, if a tad young), Steve Silver’s Nathan Detroit (one of the best I have seen), Jim Heatherly’s Benny Southstreet (right out of Damon Runyon), Elizabeth Telford’s Sarah Brown (this girl has an extraordinary voice and great acting ability) and Sarah Larson’s Miss Adelaide (in one word “perfection”).
Choreographer Clayton Cross has provided the dancers with thrilling and well executed moves, capturing the Broadway spirit of Runyon’s underworld with “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” (a show-stopper) and the glorious eleven o’clock number “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat”.
Adam Veness has once again provided a beautifully realized setting with a combination of painted drops and green steel beams equipped with lights that provide a polish and New York sensibility. Likewise Andrew Meyers’ lighting design brings Veness’ set to life with vitality.
Brenda Winestead’s costume design sticks close the original one that we have all come to know, combining the cartoonish with the realistic with just the right balance of each. She has a great eye for color which pops off the stage like a Technicolor movie.
Artistic Director Rudy Hogenmiller has once again raised the bar for Light Opera Works with his Guys and Dolls with another jewel in his crown. Following his stupendous, Broadway quality South Pacific is a feat unto itself but he has managed to equal the same success if not surpass it in some instances. Light Opera Works in Evanston has blossomed into one of Chicago’s finest musical theatre houses.
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December 30, 2015
By Jennifer Lunz
A 65 Year-Old Classic
Many plays, musicals, and operas have been performed for decades, and even centuries, all for exactly the same reason: They are timeless; stories and music that touch the heart and reveal dreams, as well as simply being entertaining. One of these classics is the Tony award-winning musical Guys and Dolls, which premiered on Broadway in 1950, ran for 1200 performances on Broadway, and has had several award-winning revivals over the years.
Guys and Dolls tells the story of gamblers and the women who cannot stop loving them. The musical comedy focuses on love and high stakes, and offers quite an extensive list of much-beloved songs such as Fugue for Tinhorns, I’ll Know, A Bushel and a Peck, Adelaide’s Lament, Guys and Dolls, If I Were a Bell, I’ve Never Been in Love Before, Luck Be a Lady, and my all-time favorite, Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.
Light Opera Works in Evanston, Illinois is currently running a new version of the musical, directed by Rudy Hogenmiller, at Cahn Auditorium at 600 Emerson. Light Opera Works, now in its 35th year, is a resident professional not-for-profit theater. Its mission is to produce and present musical theater from a variety of world traditions, as well as allowing audience members to experience repertoire that is often unavailable on stages of commercial theater and opera houses. These include modern productions with professional artists and full orchestra.
Seeing Guys and Dolls on Saturday, December 26, I found the production fresh and original. The marvelous, talented cast helped the musical come to life, along with impressive costume and stage/set design. The story focuses on handsome, high-rolling gambler, Sky Masterson (Justin Adair), who woos Sarah Brown (Elizabeth Telford) on a bet to Havana, Cuba, a missionary who sets out to reform the sinners of New York City. He ends up falling for her instead. There is also Nathan Detroit (Steve Silver), a man who is always searching for the next big floating crap game, his 14 years and counting, as well as chronically ill nightclub performer, Miss Adelaide (Sarah Larson). Other characters include Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Cary Lovett) and Rusty Charlie (John Cardone), chronic gamblers, and Arvide Abernathy, Sarah Brown’s kindly grandfather, who works with her in the missionary.
The performers were what really made this production of Guys and Dolls. I thought everyone was perfectly cast. Among my favorites were Elizabeth Telford (debut) as Sarah Brown, a delightful and spunky soprano who played the role with an almost assertive innocence, and Sarah Larson as Adelaide (which was a perfect comedic and sweet performance overall). Cary Lovett and John Cordone as Nathan Detroit’s fellow gamblers also played very talented, supporting roles with some astounding performances during the opening Fugue for Tinhorns, Guys and Dolls, and Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat. Also, I need to give full praise for the supporting ensemble: What a wonderful group of singers, actors, and dancers! Without them, there would have been no Guys and Dolls.
Guys and Dolls is such a wonderful musical with such classic songs that once you hear them, they never leave and you will frequently find yourself humming or singing them aloud. Then, there is the stage and set design. A memorable musical needs a great set and stage design. Light Opera Works pulled this off remarkably with 1950s era New York City busy streets, the underground, and The Hot Box nightclub where Adelaide performs. Simple, yet effective backgrounds helped set the time, place, and era. The costumes were also impressive. I especially enjoyed the mens’ loud and ostentatious striped and checkered pants and suit jackets, as well as the women’s nightclub outfits.
Guys and Dolls was a delightful evening of wonderful, classic music, acting, singing, and dancing - an overall classic musical to experience, one that just keeps getting better and better over the decades. I am sure that it will continue to charm audiences for years to come.
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Around the Town Chicago
December 27, 2015
By Alan Bresloff
“Classic Musical Comedy”!
Over the years, we have learned to expect the oldies but goodies to be our “holiday fare” at Light Opera Works. Yes, while other theater companies bring out the Christmas stories, musical and non-musical, variety and spoof, Light Opera Works, known as Illinois Music Theater, brings us the classics of days gone by! The musicals that those of us over 50 truly recall the memories of and the excitement of watching these masterpieces in our youths. The 2015 Winter/Holiday selection for this company is “Guys and Dolls” also called the musical fable of Broadway (based on the greatest characters ever to be in a musical comedy, the characters of writer Damon Runyon). While we know that “Fiddler on the Roof”, based on short stories and characters in Shalom Aleichem’s tales of Tevye, continues to thrill audiences, the Runyon characters have the same power today, some 65 years later. As an actor, in my many years of performing, I was lucky to have played Nathan Detroit several times. A role that I loved almost as much as playing Tevye.
Under the smooth direction of Artistic Director, Rudy Hogenmiller, this classical musical with songs that many know, such as “I’ll Know”,“Bushel and a Peck” ,”If I were a Bell”, “Luck Be A Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser), many fond memories come back to us. Younger people might find some of the characters strange, but Hogenmiller makes them seem real and true. The casting came close to ideal with voices that make the music truly special. The story is about the gamblers of New York and the Mission that opens in Times Square to bring resolution to the crime and gamblers. Our main gambler is one Nathan Detroit (well handled by Steve Silver) who runs the oldest established floating crap game in New York. This means the game is never in the same spot. He has been engaged to Miss Adelaide (the adorable Sarah Larson) the local singer at The Hot Box nightclub for 14 years. She is ready to wed, but he is not. The game is of the greatest importance for him.
The other big gambler, Sky Masterson (that is how high he bets) is played by Justin Adair, who at times I felt did not truly understand the concept of the character and his ultimate smoothness. His “girl” and as it turns out conquest is Miss Sarah Brown (a standout performance by Elizabeth Telford, who has a marvelous voice to match her charming characterization of this prim and proper “soldier”). I found her enchanting, in particular their trip to Havana. Wow! If she were a bell, any guy would want to swing with her! The whole story revolves around a bet between Nathan and Sky for one thousand bucks and ends up getting all the gamblers of Broadway to a midnight Mission Meeting to save Sarah her job and the mission itself. A wonderful story written by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows (who as it turns out may not have truly written the exact words you hear, but that is another story) with characters that are funny and relatable. Of course, there is a happy ending for all of the main characters.
Speaking of characters, let me take a minute to express the gratitude on my part of Hogenmiller finding a solid performer to bring Nicely-Nicely to the stage. Cary Lovett truly brings his own interpretation to the character (not trying to imitate the original Stubby Kaye) and making “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat” the showstopper number it is. Bravo! Jim Heatherly is dynamite as Benny Southstreet who along with Nicely brings the title song “Guys and Dolls” to life. Rick Rapp’s Lt. Brannigan is solid as is the performance of regular Kirk Swenk as Arvide Abernathy (Sarah’s grandfather). Russell Hoke as Big Julie from East Cicero Illinois is very cute and Richard Salon as his tour guide, Harry the Horse is well handled.The orchestra (one of the trademarks of this company is a FULL orchestra) conducted by Shawn Stengel and the choreography (Clayton Cross does a special job with the “sewer scene” dance) along with glorious costumes (Brenda Winstead) and brilliant set (Adam Veness) and lighting (Andrew H. Meyers) makes this almost three hour show complete. Yes, in the old days, before people were on such crazy schedules returning text messages and phone calls as well as answering e-mails, shows were longer. Act One always had more scenes than Act Two and as always, the first act was about 1 1/2 hours and the second act, just short of an hour, with a 15 minute intermission. Truth is — the show never feels long! The story moves quickly and the action never stalls.
While this is not as strong a production as we are used to from this wonderful theater company, they still manage to find new young talent to make the musicals of the past remain alive in our hearts and souls. Light Opera Works does each production on a limited performance schedule. Partly because of the full orchestra (union) and time commitment from the actors.
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Theatreworld Internet Magazine
December 29, 2015
By Ruth Smerling
Ring in the new year with Nathan, Sly, Ms. Adelaide and Sister Sarah
There is no better place to spend New Year’s Eve than with Light Opera Works, enjoying their spectacular production of Guys and Dolls. Evanston’s Cahn Auditorium, home of Light Opera Works, is shooting off fireworks of talent with some of the best comedy, music and dance numbers ever written, with vibrant direction by Artistic Director Rudy Hogenmiller and lightning choreography by Clayton Cross. The 24-piece orchestra in the pit below the stage is conducted by Shawn Stengel.
Guys and Dolls, with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, is based on the wise-guy caricatures created by Damon Runyon, a writer who found the ultimate comic situations in the thugs, hustlers and gamblers and other questionable souls who populated the area we know as Times Square in the heart of New York City, circa 1920. They were a group of people, who may have lacked formal education, but made up for it in moxie. Their distinctive style of talk, dress and attitude were enough to give Runyon volumes of short stories. The characters in Guys and Dolls are adapted from the Runyon collections and along with a good comic story, they glorify his major concerns—taking a chance and falling in love.
Guys and Dolls finds Nathan Detroit (Steve Silver) in a jam. He has to find a place to hold his renowned crap game but hasn’t got the $1000 to stake it. He comes up with a plan that’s sure fire–he’s going to bet high roller Sky Masterson (Justin Adair) that there is a girl who will not fall in love with him, or fall for his charm and he dares him to take Sister Sarah Brown (Elizabeth Telford) with him. The problem is that Sister Sarah is an evangelist who works on Broadway trying to save souls just like Masterson. She is open to everything because at this point, the mission is having a hard time keeping the doors open. When he approaches her and asks her to dinner, he makes a deal–if she’ll have dinner with him, he’ll deliver 12 sinners to the next revival meeting.
In the meantime, the heat is on for Nathan. Not only is notorious gangster Big Jule (Russell Hoke) coming in from Chicago for the game, Lt. Brannigan (Rick Rapp) is warning him that he had better not be planning any games on his watch. But Lt. Brannigan’s threat is nothing compared to the wrath of his fiancée of 14 years, Adelaide (Sarah Larson), who loves Nathan and believes in him, but has warned him to give up the game.
As all the loose ends are exposed and they dig bigger and bigger holes for themselves, these colorful characters describe their situation with spectacular classic production numbers like “Luck Be a Lady,” “A Bushel and a Peck” and Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.” Light Opera Works’ Guys and Dolls is an emotional roller coaster with all the humor of a cartoon show and all the talent of an evening at the Tonys; a great musical for the entire family and a great way to cap off 2015.