Binghamton University’s theatre department will take you back in time with “Guys and Dolls,” the fall musical of the 2018-19 Mainstage season premiering this Friday.
The production is directed by Anne Brady, a professor of theatre and head of acting/directing at BU, who said that she chose the musical for the Mainstage because of its timelessness.
“We wanted to look at what kind of musical would be good for our students, and also good for the audience, and ‘Guys and Dolls’ has been said to be one of the almost perfect musicals with a wide variety,” Brady said.
“Guys and Dolls” centers around the lives and habits of those living in New York City during the postwar era of 1949. Nathan Detroit, a con man, in hopes of finding money to house his illegal gambling habits, makes a deal with a high-rolling gambler, Sky Masterson. If Sky agrees to a bet he will surely lose, Nathan secures the solution to his funding dilemma. Nathan is sure that any doll he chooses would go on a date in Havana, Cuba with Sky — unless that “doll” was uptight Sergeant Sarah Brown, head of the Save-a-Soul Mission. Whether Sky manages to accomplish the impossible depends on a few things, but no one ever accounts for hearts getting caught in the crossfire.
The production is adapted by short stories written by Damon Runyon, a writer in the ’20s and ’30s who was familiar with the workings of things like Broadway and nightlife in the city.
“It’s a time of optimism, a time where people, post-World War II, were about,” said David Wynen, choreographer for the production and an assistant professor of theatre. “There’s a lot of action happening in Times Square at that time. You have pop culture starting to happen because it’s the first time there is disposable income for the youth.”
The production features bold colors and songs that echo the heat and energy buzzing around the city. Huge signs hang in the backdrop and clue the audience into the livelihood of the 1940s.
“I want [the audience] to feel like they’ve been transported back to this period because I feel like we have a lot of vibrant colors and big set pieces,” said Lauren Metzdorff, an assistant stage manager and a junior majoring in English. “I want them to feel like they’re in New York City, or they’re in Havana, especially since so many people have actually been in the city. Now I want them to feel like they’re there — but in a different time.”
Sidney Slon/Staff Photographer
The process of bringing a work like “Guys and Dolls” to life can be challenging at times, making its actors and crew work hard to make the production a success. The research into the lifestyle and gender roles during that specific time period was essential to creating authenticity and appreciating plays taking place in different eras.
“With ‘Guys and Dolls,’ and a lot of musicals from this time period, a lot of productions nowadays tend to label them as a comedy, and that there’s no deep character development,” said Greg DeCola, a junior majoring in theatre who plays Nathan. “But our director has done a great job making everyone delve into this world. It’s a comedy, it’s very funny, but it’s funny because of the characters and the people that are in it, as opposed to the show itself.”
Wynen explained that the overall development of the style and dance reflected the remnants of “old-world Broadway.” The choreography and acting complement each other to create a personable atmosphere where the audience can feel the energy from what’s happening on stage.
“There’s a lot of soldiers and sailors,” Wynen said. “I tried to go with the choreography to bring about that change of an era — we’re on the edge of the last of the gangsters and the last of the vaudevillians here, and it’s all about to change.”
One of the biggest contributing factors for deciding to bring “Guys and Dolls” to life was the combination of beautiful songs and the different possibilities for dance numbers. This decision was also about bringing bigger changes to the BU campus: the development of a bachelor’s in fine arts in musical theatre.
“We want to encourage dancers, as well as actors and singers, to be part of the program,” Brady said. “And having a large cast also offers opportunities to as many people as possible.”
The audience will appreciate the atmosphere and magic production’s cast creates, drawing a level of authenticity with well-delivered New York accents and dramatic tensions artfully cut with musical entertainment. The underlying themes of love and conflict help make the musical memorable.
“Some of the themes are a little outdated,” said Brenda Darcy, who plays Adelaide and is a senior double-majoring in theatre and English. “There’s a little misogyny and a little sexism, but what we’re trying to do is turn it into something relatable. People from two different worlds meeting and falling in love, and I think that forbidden love is such a universal theme, which happens a lot in life.”
The students and faculty who put the show together worked hours and days of nonstop rehearsal to create a show that has a little something for everyone.
“This is such a joyous production,” said Christine Skorupa, a junior majoring in theatre who plays Sarah Brown. “I want the audience to enjoy their time here, to go away singing the songs, getting them stuck in their [heads] and having a good time. I want them to see how passionate people can be. It’s just a really fun show.”