On Thursday, April 7, the Hillel Theater Group (HTG) put on “Guys and Dolls” at the SCC Theater, which is a musical written by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and the music and lyrics composed by Frank Loesser.
The play was loosely based on two short stories by Damon Runyon, known as, “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure.” In addition, it borrows a few other elements from here and there, all pulled from Runyon’s extensive and distinctive body of work.
The play has been a wild success on Broadway since its debut in 1950. That year the production won five Tony Awards, including for Best Musical. It also ran for approximately 1,200 performances, and in 1955 Academy Award-winning actor Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Frank Sinatra starred together in a film version of the same title. The film was a box-office and critical success, and in 2006 the AFI selected it as the 23rd “Greatest Movie Musicals.” Since then, “Guys and Dolls” has been bestowed with four revivals on Broadway and numerous productions across the world, including London and Melbourne.
Furthermore, the play also has an interesting fact regarding the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, for which it was selected as the 1951 winner. Nonetheless, the comedian and co-author of the play, Abe Burrows, was linked with the Communist party by the House Un-American Activities Committee. As a result of this link, the Trustees of Columbia University, who administer the award annually, vetoed “Guys and Dolls” and no award was given during that year.
Nathan Detroit’s big craps game is happening in New York City. Nathan (Bryan McNamara ’19) a small time gambler and needs $1000 to rent the location that many gamblers in the city and out of town are waiting for. The only way Nathan manages to obtain such money is by establishing a bet with Sky Masterson (Gabe Walker ’19). The established bet states that Sky must woo Sarah Brown (Jessie Eichinger ’17), who runs a mission for sinners, and take her to dinner in Havana, Cuba. Whoever turns out to be the loser must pay the amount of $1000 to the other.
The acting and singing were some of the highlights of this production; everyone hit the right notes. Some stand-outs were Saadiah McIntosh ’18 as Nicely-Nicely Johnson; his charm, movements, sense of humor and potential and impressive voice—proven during his singing of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat”—made him a likeable sidekick. Another instant sensation was Leah Sherin ’19, who played Miss Adelaide, Nathan’s 14-year-old girlfriend with a terrible cold. When she sang “Adelaide’s Lament” it was Sherin’s moment and she stole the show. In addition, Big Jule (Laura Goemann ’19) was an utter jerk in the best way possible. What made it refreshing was seeing her tackling a role that is usually played by a man. But Goemann was capable of making it her own. An interesting detail about this production of “Guys and Dolls” was that there were only four men in the cast and the rest were female. Regardless, it worked well.
The main players were also in the game as well. Walker and Eichinger shared great chemistry together and even a perhaps 30 or 40-second kiss. They proved that they are musical material; their voices were remarkable and poignant—they easily brought memories from old classic musical film pictures, such as “An American in Paris” (1951) or “A Star Is Born” (1954). Nathan, played by McNamara, was also compelling. He had good timing delivering his funny lines, an inconspicuous, smooth yet noticeable New York accent and a brilliant voice that made Nathan the perfect guy for Miss Adelaide. It proved that despite being a flawed character, unstable and an idle gambler who somehow rebuffs the idea of abandoning his gambling affairs, he above all else is a true gentleman who is madly in love, and all that is sensed through McNamara’s interpretation of the songs, particularly in “Sue Me,” which was sung alongside Sherin.
In terms of production, there are quibbles and mishaps that occurred during the three-hour show. From the beginning, it seemed not everybody behind the curtain was on their places. Later in the night, one of the billboards, which had lights on it, fell onto the stage and the light bulbs broke into shards that were hastily swept away. Nonetheless, that is the magic of theater: The unexpected happens, there is little time to think and react, but the production staff worked hard and collectively to keep the show going.
There was nothing wrong with the set design, but it was a bit plain and not colorful enough, especially for a musical like “Guys and Dolls.” In fact, when you think of any musical, you think of color: “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mary Poppins,” “Moulin Rouge!” It had potential to be more creative. On the other hand, the lighting helped; there was a special moment when Eichinger and Walker were sharing a scene and she turned toward the audience to sing “I’ll Know” and the lighting completely changed. It is as if the lightning is pointing out, “This is a pause from the real life and in this pause we are going to sing our emotions.”
HTG’s production turned out to be original, fresh and musically flawless, with the help of a superb orchestra playing during the entire night and a fantastic cast.