Performances Friday through Sunday at Macky Auditorium
By Peter Alexander March 9 at 5:07 p.m.
The Eklund Opera Theater at CU will transport audiences back seven decades this weekend.
Their production of Frank Loesser’s Tony Award-winning 1950 Broadway hit Guys and Dolls, certainly one of the greatest of the era’s classic musical shows, runs Friday through Sunday at Macky Auditorium (details below). Performances, featuring students in the opera and music theater programs, have been stage directed by Leigh Holman, with choreography by Tracy Doty. Nicholas Carthy conducts.
Based on stories by Damon Runyon, Guys and Dolls features characters from prohibition-era New York, including gamblers and their henchmen, nightclub “girls,” tough cops and Salvation Army missionaries. The main plot revolves around two pairs of potential lovers: the gambler Nathan Detroit and his long-waiting fiancée, nightclub singer Miss Adelaide; and the even flashier gambler Sky Masterson and the pious Salvation Army sergeant Sarah Brown.
Other Runyon-esque characters surrounding the leads include such colorful personalities as “Nicely-Nicely” Johnson, “Harry the Horse,” “Big Jule,” police lieutenant Brannigan, who is always one step behind the gamblers, and an ensemble of Hotbox Club dancers.
The Eklund production is set not in the prohibition times of Runyon’s stories, but in the 1950s of the show’s premiere—when alcohol was not illegal as in the ‘30s, but gambling still was: illegal and a little bit glamorous. Spoiler alert: this being golden-age Broadway, “it is a feel-good story,” Carthy says. At the end, the two couples get married and the leading men renounce their shady habits to adopt respectable lives.
As far as the 1950s are from today’s college students, Holman says the cast members were eager to do the show. “Students came out in droves to audition for this piece,” she says. “We were able to choose really good singers and dancers.”
Not only were students eager to audition, they have really immersed themselves in the show. “They are so absolutely committed to it,” Carthy says. “They put in the work, and it’s incredibly gratifying—they love it.”
Holman says they have also been doing their research into the time period. “They’re teaching us!” she says. “They’ve got the accents down, the way to walk—it’s made our job super easy. And there are so many references to things that don’t exist today: Brooks Brothers, Ovaltine, A&P, Whitney Colors”—the last being the livery colors for racehorses owned by the prominent and wealthy Whitney family.
As for the style of the classical Broadway musical, “they love it,” Holman says. “They really get the timing and the style of this type of musical.”
One thing Holman did have to teach was how to use a pay phone—something that was new and strange for the young people in the cast. “They said, ‘I’ve heard of it,’ Holman recalls. “I said, ‘You pick up the receiver, and then you put the coin in, and then you dial,’ and they’re doing it with me like it’s choreography. ‘You dial, and then you listen, those four steps: receiver, coin, dial, listen.’
“Nick and I are the caretakers of all the 20th century. We’re teaching whatever from the 20th century that these folks don’t know.”
Such details of life in the 1950s as forgotten brand names and pay phones are quaint, but it was also an era when social conventions were very different than they are today. It was a largely patriarchal society, and the women are looking for traditional 1950s marriages, but both Carthy and Holman are adamant that the show is not inherently sexist.
“I don’t see it,” Holman says. “Are there examples of men objectifying women? Of course there are. But the women don’t take it! They’re strong women! Adelaide is doing exactly what she wants to do, and Sarah is on a mission. But I don’t think any one of those women put up with much.”
“I do not think it’s a sexist piece in any way,” Carthy says. “It is a child of its time, and child of its time means it’s got fantastically witty dialog and amazing show tunes. It needs to be enjoyed for what it is: an intelligent, non-sexist story with fabulous music and dance.”
Holman is especially pumped about the dance. “The dance is not like anything you’ve seen at Eklund Opera before,” she says. “It’s worth the price of admission on its own! Tracy Doty, who did the choreography, has done wonders with them.”
In fact Holman is, as always during the rehearsal process, pumped about the whole show. “This is one of the strongest books I’ve ever been involved with,” she says. “There’s a lot of dialog, but it’s so brilliantly written, and it really does carry the story forward. We’ve had a lot of fun with that. We’re really excited to be doing this piece!”
For his part, Carthy summarizes the show’s longstanding popularity, saying, “It’s full of big tunes and witty text, (so) how could you not love it, really?”
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Guys and Dolls
Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
CU Eklund Opera Theater
7:30 p.m. Friday, March 11, and Saturday, March 12
2 p.m. Sunday, March 13
Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly listed the photos as by Collin Ring. They were taken by Lily Valdez. We apologize for the error. Correction posted 3/10.