They’re Rockin’ the Boat at Haldane: Guys and Dolls is the Spring Musical

Four shows this coming weekend feature many double-cast roles 

By Alison Rooney

A sampling of yearly surveys done of high schools across the country, questioning what musical was performed in the previous year has yielded a constant: Guys and Dolls (originally produced in 1950) is the only pre-1960 show on lists full of Beauty and the Beast, Little Shop of Horrors, and yes, High School Musical.  So what is it about this fable of gamblers, missionaries and nightclub chorines which keeps it such a perennial favorite for high school theater?  Perhaps, beyond the adrenaline-fueled swagger of familiar numbers like Luck Be A Lady and the charm of a romance between (of course) a completely mismatched pair there is simply this: language — Runyonesque language, Runyonesque now approaching adjective status. Evidence follows from some random Google searches of the word:

Runyonesque Boxing Scribe George Kimball Cared About the Fights 

A Runyonesque Tale of Schemers and Suckers 

Spectacular Bid was Surrounded by a Runyonesque Cast of Characters

So who was this Runyon guy, anyhow?
Damon Runyon was born in 1880 and grew up, not in Hell’s Kitchen, but in Colorado, where his family was in the newspaper business.  While serving in the army during the Spanish-American war, he wrote for service publications.  Moving to New York City in 1910 he reported on sports, notably boxing and baseball, for Hearst papers.  During this time he began writing the short stories for which he became famous. These stories celebrated the denizens of a very specific slice-of-Broadway-life: small-time gamblers, mobsters and the dames in their lives. In a 2009 New Yorker article on Runyon, Adam Gopnik wrote:

It was only slowly, and over time, that he insinuated himself into the night world that he made his own best subject. His method was a simple form of Broadway Zen: he went to Lindy’s, then an all-night Jewish deli on Broadway, and sat. ‘I am the sedentary champion of the city,’ he explained. ‘In order to learn anything of importance, I must remain seated. Why I am the best is that I can last an entire day without causing a chair to squeak.’ … later [he] began trying to turn the gangster-talk he heard into stories. But his ambitions were in place all along. This pattern—sportswriter into writer—was so familiar that it is easy to forget its peculiarities. The great American humorists of the first half of the twentieth century divide pretty neatly into newspaper guys and magazine writers, drudges for the penny press and hacks for the slicks, as they thought of themselves. Runyon, Lardner, and Don Marquis were all newspaper writers; Perelman, Thurber, and Benchley all magazine guys. … He began to write about the gangsters he had come to know as fictional characters, and, weird stroke of genius, as comic fictional characters. He saw that he could dramatize his accumulated experience of violence on Broadway if he made it funny.

Runyon’s vernacular, recreated to perfection in Guys and Dolls, was present tense, contraction-free and exquisitely stilted, forming an embellished, half comedic, half hard-boiled patter. Here are some of his descriptions of the central couple in Guys & Dolls, as found in his story, The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown, a precursor of the show:

Miss Sarah Brown:  She is tall and thin, and has a first-class shape, and her hair is a light brown, going on blond, and her eyes are like I do not know what, except that they are one-hundred percent eyes in every respect.  Furthermore, she is a not bad cornet player, if you like cornet players, although at this spot on Broadway, she has to play against a scat band in a chop suey joint nearby, and this is tough competition…

Mr. Sky Masterson: The Sky is smarter than three Philadelphia lawyers, which makes him very smart indeed, and he is well-established as a high player in New Orleans, and Chicago, and Los Angeles, and wherever else there is any action in the way of card-playing, or crap-shooting, or horse-racing or betting on the baseball games, for The Sky is always moving around the country following the action.

Runyon’s stories were extremely popular in the 1930s.  Although many mistakenly credit Runyon with writing the “book” for the show, he had already passed away when production began.  The idea for Guys and Dolls evidently came from the original producer’s wife, who, reading the short stories, mentioned to her husband that she thought they’d be a great basis for a musical.  Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling wrote the book, which lifts great chunks of material, including the wonderful character names —Nicely-Nicely, Harry the Horse, Miss Adelaide — from a number of the stories.  The music, by Frank Loesser, consistently echoes the cadence of the stories, in various genres, from the flirty dance-hall numbers of the Hot Box girls, (Take Back Your Mink, Bushel and a Peck) to the patois of the bookies (Fugue For Tinhorns), sentimental Irish balladeering (More I Cannot Wish You), character-driven asides to the audience (Adelaide’s Lament) and the rousing mission hall gangsta gospel of Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat. 

Why does it still work?
So, enough with this literary talk and back to the question of why Guys and Dolls still works as a high school production:  it’s funny, rousing, and most of all full of endearing characters who are easy for high school hams to hook into — that Runyonesque lingo gives them a handy leg up on figuring out how best to put their characters across.

As in previous seasons, the popularity of performing in the spring musical at Haldane has resulted in the key roles being double-cast, to accommodate the overflow of talent on hand.  Although this adds to the burden of rehearsals for director Martha Mechalakos,  choreographer Katie Bissinger, and stage manager Anna Ledwith in particular, with many designated “Cast A” or “Cast B,” the ability to give more budding actors an opportunity to strut their stuff on stage is worth it.

To even things out, and accommodate the demand, this year there will be four (up from three) performances:  Friday, March 23 at 7, Saturday, March 24 at 2 and at 7 and Sunday, March 25 at 2. Tickets are $10; students and seniors are $5, and can be reserved by calling 265-9254, x 111.  Any remaining tickets will be available at the door.  The performances often sell out, so it is best to arrive on the early side if you haven’t pre-purchased tickets.  Guys and Dolls is suitable for all ages.

 

Mechalakos says audiences this year won’t find it hard to spot the elevated production values that greater funding has been able to provide: there is a bigger pit band than ever, 12 players (8 pros), lots of costumes, and a complicated set.  The funding increase is self-generated as the musicals are self-funded, with revenue coming from ticket and advertising sales, both of which have been increasing in recent years.

So, while you’re tapping along to the familiar melodies, appreciating the limber dancing and enjoying the sure-to-be spirited performances, keep your ears attuned to some poetry as well.  As Gopnik puts it, “Runyon remains a living presence. Writers with a great ear, like Chandler and Runyon, give us their words, but they also give us a license to listen—a license to listen to street speech and folk speech with a mind newly alive to the poetry implicit in it.

Cast lists by performance for the double-cast roles: 

Friday 3/23 at 7 and Saturday 3/24 at 2:
Sky Masterson- Jack Quigley
Sarah Brown- Liz Richter
Nathan Detroit- Conor Austin
Miss Adelaide- Jessica Gore
Nicely-Nicely Johnson- Tyler Mell
General Cartwright- Alison Duncan

Saturday 3/24 at 7 and Sunday 3/25 at 2:
Sky Masterson- Simon Close
Sarah Brown- Melina Marinakis
Nathan Detroit- Matt Marino
Miss Adelaide- Kady Neill
Nicely-Nicely Johnson- Peter Close
General Cartwright- Cassidy Teagle

Balance of the cast, who will perform these roles at all four performances:
Benny Southstreet- Kiran Kilantri
Rusty Charlie- James Perkins
Arvide Abernathy- Callum Lane
Agatha- Daisy Tacuri
Calvin- Kieran Austin
Martha- Gianna Grandetti
Harry the Horse- Gareth Gore
Lieutenant Brannigan- Conner Brennan
Joey Biltmore- Jack Lovell
Master of Ceremonies- Phelan Maguire
Mimi- Mackenzie Flager
Big Jule- Aidan Gallagher
Drunk- Corydon Zouzias
Police Officer- Michael Bentowski
Waiter- Jack Lovell
Havana Girl- Lucy Austin
Hot Box Girls- Lucy Austin, Mackenzie Flager, Tess Foster, Leandra Rice, Caroline Casparian, (Liz Richter/ Melina Marinakis), (Jessica Gore/ Kady Neill), Remi Smith, Clara Thompson.
Crap Shooters: Kiran Kilantri, James Perkins, Gareth Gore, Aidan Gallagher, Jack Lovell, Michael Bentowski, Phelan Maguire, (Jack Quigley/ Simon Close), (Conor Austin/ Matt Marino),(Tyler Mell/ Peter Close), Matt Koval, Dima Spinelli.

CREW
Anna Ledwith- Stage Manager
Mary Callaghan
AJ Curto
Maya Curto
Catriona Daly
Jacqui Ferguson
Patrick Junjulas
Emma Kimmel
Emily Lombardo
Kelin Petkus
Andrew Platt
Aaron Seymour
Hailey Wilson
Patrick Junjulas

CREATIVE STAFF
Director and Music Director- Martha Mechalakos
Choreography- Katie Bissinger
Costumes- Charlotte Palmer Lane
Sound Design- Damian McDonald
Lighting Design- Tyler Mell
Lighting Tech – Jason Kane Seitz
Set Design- Martha Mechalakos, Seamus Carroll, Mary Rice
Technical Director- Frank Caccetta
Sound Tech- Wylie McDonald
Asst Costumers- Cassidy Teagle, Boo Close
Scenic painters- Mary Rice, Martha Mechalakos. Cassandra Nichols
Properties- Seamus Carroll, Martha Mechalakos
Production Coordinator- Seamus Carroll
Theatrical Advisor- Joel Goss


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