Whitney Curtis | stagesstlouis.org
Oh, craps! Guys and dollars!
Had you been a Tony Awards voter in the early 1950s, would you have voted for Guys and Dolls
, which debuted on Broadway in November 1950 (and which opens a four-week stint at Stages St. Louis
this weekend), or for The King and I
, which opened four months later? Tough call.
So which show went home with the Tony?
They both did. In those days shows were grouped by year, not by season. So Guys and Dolls
, the sassy adaptation of two short stories by the ever-irreverent Damon Runyon, won the Tony in 1951 and was neatly sandwiched between two Tony Award-winning Rodgers and Hammerstein stalwarts: South Pacific
(1950) and The King and I
That original G and D
stage adaptation is itself a storied production. Music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, a book primarily by Abe Burrows. Direction by George S. Kaufman and choreography by Michael Kidd. Legends all.
I've always loved talking to those who were in any way linked to that original staging. When I worked at CBS, Alan Alda
told me about how he accompanied his father Robert Alda (the original Sky Masterson) to most Saturday matinees, and this fourteen-year-old would watch in wonder from the wings, reveling in every brassy minute. Although Alda fils would be claimed by television, he is still stagestruck and returns to the stage on a regular basis.
In 1984 I was in England working on a CBS miniseries. One of the
supporting roles was played by Stubby Kaye
. Kaye was Broadway's
original Marrying Sam in Li'l Abner
and was fondly recalled (along with
Nat King Cole) as one of the singing narrators of Cat Ballou
. But to me
he will forever be Nicely-Nicely Johnson. When he introduced "Sit Down,
You're Rocking the Boat," Kaye made theater history. "It's a funny
thing about that song," the jovial actor remarked. "I don't read music.
I don't know one note from another. Sing it to me, then give me a few
days all alone, and I'll know it pretty good. I practiced and practiced
that song in Frank Loesser's apartment. We didn't give it a second
thought. Then I went all through rehearsals. Nothin' special. Nobody
knew what we had. But the first time I sang it in front of an audience,
an opening night out-of-town in Philadelphia, my first Broadway show,
the reaction floored us. That number was dynamite."
So it has ever been. "Sit Down" was also a star-maker for St. Louisan
when he sang it in an all-black Broadway revival in 1977. Two
years ago when Page hosted the second annual Kevin Kline Awards
opened the evening with "Sit Down." It still rocks.
Guys and Dolls
made its St. Louis debut in 1953. The national company
played the original American Theater (on Market at Seventh) for three
weeks even while the original Broadway production was still running.
Pamela Britton (best known for her stint as Lorelei Brown on TV's My
) was Miss Adelaide.
The first of seven Muny stagings opened in 1955. It was far from the
summer's biggest draw (inclement weather discouraged attendance), but
it played to 66,000 people in one week. The musical returned to the
Muny a mere two summers later, in 1955. Indeed, the show remains so
perennially popular, it hardly seems to go away.
Now it's back at Stages with a cast of actors, several of whom --
according to their bios -- are "thrilled" to be here. It all sounds very