Part of Michael Wisniewski’s pre-production brainstorming for Bay City Players’ production of Guys and Dolls was determining a unifying concept and “look” for the show. And while he didn’t want to reveal his final decision, he did explain to Review Magazine that he is thrilled and excited at his cast and crew’s execution of his vision.
"You have to do pre-production with the script. As a director, I had a copy of the script quite a while before we held auditions. We buy scripts and musicals are rented. The theater receives a large number of musical songbooks that the cast uses and then returns, so I had a copy of the script and I kept reading and reading and reading and I started to get mental images of what I wanted things to look like - and what is most important is the concept of the show.”
Guys & Dolls is one of the most popular and critically acclaimed American musicals, focusing on the gambling gentlemen of New York City and their ladies during the era just after World War Two. Bay City Players will open their first performance on Thursday, April 28and run with performances through May 1 and May 6-8th.
The much produced crowd pleasing show has had four major long running productions on Broadway and has been staged in England in four major productions as well.
Wisniewski hails it as the classic American musical. He notes that Frank Loesser, who wrote the music and lyrics, would have been one hundred years old this year, and it’s the sixtieth anniversary of Guys and Dolls initial run on Broadway.
“It’s been called the perfect musical because not only is the music wonderful, it has a strong book. The book is by guys from TV (Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows) and Frank Loesser, this was a big show for him. I love the show and the music and how it’s lasted all these years. It’s just a classic.”
One point Wisniewski stresses emphatically is that the musical theater version, and specifically this production of Guys and Dolls is radically different than the 1955 movie musical starring Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando and Jean Simmons.
“The two are very different. I don’t care for the movie and I’ve instructed the cast not to watch it. In adapting it for film they took some of the charm away and they changed some numbers and added a few musical numbers. I like the stage version far better.”
For those unfamiliar with the story, Guys and Dolls is adapted from the stories of New York journalism legend Damon Runyon, who today is known primarily for his fictional stories of the gambling life and the colorful characters who inhabited that world which he came to know as a sports journalist. Runyon was such a celebrated and popular sports scribe that he was voted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in the sportswriter’s category.
The musical revolves primarily around a wager between the male leads, Nathan Detroit and Sky Masterson, two gentlemen who are high stakes gamblers. Nathan (played in this production by Neil Schultz) wagers that Sky (David Bowden) cannot take a “doll” of Nathan’s choosing off to Havana, Cuba for a rendezvous of dinner and dancing. The not exactly modest Sky is confident of his ability to win this wager until Nathan selects Sergeant Sarah Brown (Renee Pawloski) of the Salvation Army.
Adding to the stories antics is the character of Nathan’s long suffering fiancée of fourteen years Miss Adelaide (Laura Peil) and he attempts to marry the confirmed bachelor.
Other major characters who performs musical numbers in the show are Lieutenant Brannigan (David Drysdale), Arvide Abernathy (David Smith), Benny Southstreet (Marty Hofelich), Rusty Charlie (Steve Moelter), Nicely Nicely Johnson (Kurt Miller), Big Jule (Nathan Cholger), Harry the Horse (Tom Vassalo) and General Cartwright (Trina Schnabel).
One of the challenges of putting on Guys and Dolls is recreating the distinctive “Runyun-speak”, that famous Damon Runyon dialogue that uses almost Shakespearean articulation and unique cadences with an absence of word contractions. Wisniewski proclaims that the cast assimilated to the trademark language quickly and that the major leads each have developed unique New York accents for their characters.
“They are doing good. They’ve picked it up. The main characters have their accents and they are all different. Miss Adelaide speaks in a certain way. She’s always seen as the ditzy blonde, but I’m not playing her like that, and we’re doing it differently.”
“You have Sarah Brown who is a character but she is the leader of the mission, she’s trying to change Broadway, but the other side is Miss Adelaide who is a colorful character. But when they (Sky and Sarah) go to Havana her character comes out. She has a few drinks and loosens up. Nicely is great and Rusty Charlie becomes a gambler, and everyone plays bit parts here and there but the main characters all have different nuances that they picked up.”
Working closely with Director Wisniewski is Assistant Director Susan Lindow and Musical Director Kunio Ouelette. The choreography has been done by Rebecca Fournier, Suzanne MacKenzie, Lore Wiesing from Miss Lore’s Dance Studio.
One of the challenges of staging Guys and Dolls for regional theater is finding enough men who can handle stage movement and dancing. Wisniewski says he is proud of the male cast and how they have responded to the challenge, acknowledging that you know going in that you can’t have Broadway style dancing in a local show cast with actors who likely do not have a dance background.
“Our gamblers are doing a good job. There is a lot of stage movement.” Wisniewski says.
Behind the scenes, John Van Looy designed the lighting and during the run of the show the lighting cues will be executed by Sara Schram, while her husband Will Schram handles the sound execution.
Leeds Bird designed the set and Janet Dixon did props. Eileen Harrigan is doing Vocal Direction. Head Costumer is Denise Avery.
Wisniewski is effusive in his praise for the cast and crew and how they have helped him to realize his vision for the production. “The cast is wonderful. No director can ask for a better cast.”