Published in The News Tribune, Nov. 27, 2009
Guys & Dolls
When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays, additional matinees Dec. 12 and 19, through Dec. 20
Where: Tacoma Musical Playhouse at the Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave.
Tickets: $25 adults, $23 students/military, $18 children 12 and younger
Information: 253-565-6867, tmp.org
A few days before opening night of each mainstage show, Tacoma Musical Playhouse puts on a preview event called Behind the Curtain. It provides an opportunity to become privy to inside information about the upcoming shows. I’ve attended two of these Behind the Curtain events and wish I could go to all of them. I wish every theater would do this because it affords a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the way productions happen and get a free sneak peek before opening night.
On Sunday, I went to the Behind the Curtain for “Guys & Dolls,” which opens tonight.
Typically the event starts with TMP’s managing artistic director Jon Douglas Rake providing a history of the production, complete with insider anecdotes, and musical director Jeff Stvrtecky explaining some of the intricacies of the music – in this instance explaining the use of a fugue, commonly called singing rounds, in the song “Fugue for Tinhorns” and talking about how operatic and gospel conventions are used in other songs. Rake then shows off some of the costumes, introduces the cast and provides a brief synopsis of the show with the cast performing some of the musical numbers. All of this is followed by a question-and-answer session. This time there was a big crowd in the house, and they asked a lot of insightful questions, which prompted more entertaining anecdotes from Rake.
Rake began by telling the audience that “Guys & Dolls” was based on elements from three different short stories by Damon Runyon and that the music and lyrics were written by Frank Loesser. He told stories about Loesser, who fought constantly with the director during rehearsals for the Broadway opening in 1950. He also briefly mentioned the movie version starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra. There was a definite sneer when he mentioned the movie, indicating that if your idea of “Guys & Dolls” is based on the movie you will be seeing something much better at TMP.
He also talked about changes he made for this production such as some references to Christmas themes that weren’t in the original. “As a director I ignore all stage directions” written into the script, Rake said. “I throw those out, ignore them.”
The biggest changes were to “borrow” the Motown version of the great gospel tune “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat” and “throw in” a tap dance number on “A Bushel and A Peck.”
Bringing out costumes to show the audience, he explained how all of the costumes were designed to bring out the “essence” of each character as a caricature, explaining that most of the characters have colorful names and giving examples such as these: Harry the Horse (Adam Randolph) wears a horse blanket, and Rusty Charlie (Jon Huntsman) wears rust-colored clothes. Then he showed off the fur stoles and elegant gowns the Hot Box Girls wear in their striptease number, but mischievously teased, “You’ll have to come to the show” to see what they strip down to.
The curtains then opened to reveal a huge cast sitting on stage in front of a fabulous set of painted panels by Dori Conklin representing Times Square at night, with windows and neon signs painted in brilliant yellows, greens and purples on a black background. Later, another curtain was brought on with a painted scene to represent the sewer beneath the city streets painted in glowing orange and blue. Truly beautiful. In this scene, Sky Masterson (Rafe Wadleigh) sings his big number, “Luck Be a Lady Tonight,” and Rake promised that there would be a full-scale ballet in the sewer scene plus some hot salsa dancing in a scene in Havana.
Other highlights in the Behind the Curtain event included a beautiful duet with Wadleigh and Sarah Samuelson as Sarah Brown, Sam Barker’s lead as Nicely-Nicely Johnson on the big gospel tune “Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat,” and a very brief but hilariously saucy hip slap by Gen. Cartwright (Diane Bozzo).
The cast and set were wonderful, and the talk back with the audience was lively and informative. Rake seemed to get great pleasure in teasing us about the things we couldn’t see unless we come to the show, such as the big dance numbers and one song, “Adelaide’s Lament,” which he said has been called “a perfect comic song” but could not be performed during Behind the Curtain because Loesser made a legal stipulation that it can be performed only in the show.
The cast and crew of “Guys & Dolls” are teaming up with The Salvation Army in Tacoma during the run of this show. “We just couldn’t resist The Salvation Army connection, and we know that TMP has the most generous patrons in the region,” Rake said. TMP is collecting new and unwrapped toys for The Salvation Army’s Toy ‘n’ Joy program in the lobby between now and the closing performance Dec. 20. “With approximately 4,600 to 5,000 patrons expected to see this production – several matinee performances are already nearly sold out – the cast and crew at TMP are hopeful that we will be able to help The Salvation Army in their mission to bring a smile to the face of every child in Tacoma who may not otherwise receive a gift this Christmas.”