After 15-year wait, musical arrives at Depot
Guys and Dolls is that show you love to love. It’s so endearingly clever that it’s impossible to stay mad at it when it veers into retro takes on marriage, gambling and soul-saving. It is one of the few musicals that opened before 1960 to remain on the list of most-produced musicals.
After a long wait, Guys and Dolls arrives at the Philipstown Depot Theater for a three-weekend run beginning Friday (May 5). All 11 shows have sold out, although tickets remain for a May 21 benefit performance.
The popularity of the show brought in many actors who auditioned at the Depot for the first time. “They came out of nowhere — this cast just emerged; we got lucky,” says director Joe Levy, who says he has wanted to bring the musical to the Garrison’s Landing venue since the last time he directed there, in 2007, with the comedy Beyond Therapy. His plans were delayed by a Broadway revival that made the rights unavailable and his work with companies such as The Public Theater and New York Theater Workshop, and venues like the Apollo Theater.
“I started as an actor, but was always drawn to the messy process of creating,” Levy says. “I gave up acting and gravitated to backstage and found I was just as happy with that life, in the art form I was most drawn to.”
Last year, as the pandemic began to taper, the Depot’s artistic director, Nancy Swann, approached Levy with an invitation: “We’re coming back. Do you want to jump into it?”
“There’s an unbelievably talented enclave of people here, and Guys and Dolls is a wonderful showcase,” Levy says. “It’s a great old show. Yes, there’s sexism and other potentially offensive moments, but it’s not going out of its way to hurt anyone. We don’t want to lose any of the fun, the asides.”
Natalie Arneson, Conor Austin, Joshua Lance Dixon, Maya Gelber, Dan Guerra, Cat Guthrie, Sara Law, Dave Llewellyn, Elaine Llewellyn, Amber McCarthy, Rodman Neumann, Fay Pacht, Kalista Parrish, Richard Peri, George Petkanas, Nat Prentice, Cara Ramos DiMedio, Ernie Rideout, Lisa Sabin, Will Speziale, Derek Staranowski, Ash M. Straw, Sterling Swann
Christine Bokhour (choreography), Nathan Press (music direction), Chris Nowak (set design), Marissa Genna (costumes), David Aab (lighting), Ivy Heyt-Benjamin (stage manager)
Although many credit Damon Runyon with the book for the show, which originated with his short stories, he had died by the time production began. Instead, Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling used Runyon’s patter-spouting, richly drawn characters as their inspiration for re-creating a slice of Times Square life. The music, by Frank Loesser, captures the cadence of Runyon’s stories and contains familiar standards such as “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” and “Luck Be a Lady.”
What is contemporary to this production is gender-switching, which presented itself as an idea after auditions, Levy says. “We have two women playing male roles, and we talked a lot about pronouns and the ‘Am I a woman pretending to be a man?’ questions they can raise.
“Ultimately, we decided to ignore it, or we’d get stuck on it. I don’t want the audience to spend any time being ‘outside the inside’ of the production. The writing evokes vaudeville and grit, with intentionally campy and cheesy moments, all of which we want to play.”
In the spirit of snappily moving the 23-person cast along quickly, Levy is pushing for scene-change speed. “It’s easier to make the journey with us up and down with seamless transitions,” he says. “I want this train to leave the station and not stop until intermission, and do the same in the second act.”
The Philipstown Depot Theatre is located at 10 Garrison’s Landing. Tickets are still available for $175 each for a benefit performance at 2 p.m. on May 21; see philipstowndepottheatre.org.
As per usual, lovely article Ms. Rooney. Thank you.