Research into the Characters, Story, and Music of Guys and Dolls
The musical Guys and Dolls first premiered on Broadway in 1950; it ran for more than 1,200 performances (Liukkonen). The characters and much of the story of the musical were originally created by Damon Runyon in his work “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown.” Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling adapted the characters and story from Runyon’s writings into musical form (Liukkonen).
This play’s characteristic nature that makes it very different from other plays is that it generates its characters’ traits and story from music and this is why it is called a musical. Though criticized for going against the norms, critics point out that the funny thing is that the play commits a wrong in the right way.
The songs used in Guys and Dolls were the works of Frank Loesser (Everett). The combination of characters, story, and music from these contributes are what made Guys and Dolls a popular Broadway musical.
Five years after the premier Guys and Dolls was adapted for film. In 1992 the musical returned to Broadway and was nearly as successful as the original (according to Gordon). Finally, the most recent Broadway performance was in 2009. Guys and Dolls continues to be produced off Broadway today (Byrnside). William Ragland, the director of the Woodmont Wildcat Players, believes that, “… If it (Guys and Dolls) can still resonate with contemporary teens then it will be around for a long time to come.” “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown,” the origin of Guys and Dolls, was written regional slang of the north. This was a characteristic that was passed on to Guys and Dolls.
The humorous and lighthearted nature, along with the great story and music, of Guys and Dolls is the inspiration of this paper. Arguably, the greatest contributor to the Guys and Dolls musical was Damon Runyon. His work is the basis of the musical; he created the characters and much of the story (New York Times). Frank Loesser also contributed to the formation of the characters through the musical numbers her created for Guys and Dolls. The music he created contributed greatly to both the characters and story. The music made the story playable; it added drama, suspense, and thrill. Burrows and Swerling are responsible for converting “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” into a musical (New York Times). Their combined efforts created the script for Guys and Dolls. Guys and Dolls continues to impress critics, even through changing times.
Guys and Dolls meets rare criticism for its powerful use of music to tell, develop the story and design the characters. In deed, those who critique Guys and Dolls rarely pose negative comments to the play itself. They base their criticism on the use of music which in their opinion is wrong but again point out that this abnormal use of music is what makes the play even more virile and good.
Prior to the musicals debut, there was already great excitement and support. The New York Times reported that: “… [Ticket sales] should put a host of eighty backers in an optimistic frame of mind.” Most if the criticism is related to specific productions of Guys and Dolls. For example the relatively recent 2009 production received harsh reviews mostly resulting from major changes made to the original show. Despite their odd name, Critique-O-Meter offers a list of critiques from various sources with a summary at the beginning. The following line shows the drastic changes that caused the poor response.
“Most critics are wondering how McAnuff could go so wrong with a musical so right. They don't understand most of his decisions, namely to move the time period from the '50s to the Great Depression era and incorporate Damon Runyon, author of the stories on which the characters are based, as a silent character. “
In Guys and Dolls the characters and their personalities are revealed through song. For example, in the Journal of American Culture Byrnside explains how the simplest wording can express a character:
“’ [Line from] Adelaide's Lament:’ In other words, just from waiting around for that plain little band of gold, A person could develop a bad, bad cold.
The line could read: "So, from waiting around for that band of gold, one could catch a cold." This version is surely more economical, but it is aggressively dull when compared to Loesser's version, and it is much too direct for Adelaide”, (Byrnside).
Another major character developing song is the duet between Sarah and Sky (Byrnside). Ron Byrnside observes that his four-minute duet would likely have required a ten page monologue to match the values expressed (very strong)
Guys and Dolls is one of the few plays that has sustained it position in the theater market for a very long period of time (fifty years) and should continues retaining its appeal especially to the young generation which is highly possible, it will stay in the market for a longer time than could be expected.
The play has remained a classic musical for over fifty years and this could be perfectly attributed to its perfect merger of characters, story, and music which are the artistic works of several people. How this play manages to merge works of different artistes to form a communicative whole in a very artistically and sensational manner remains its strength point. Damon Runyon gave the characters their emotion and personality. Frank Loesser converted the character traits into music. The overall story was created by using several of Runyon’s works which Burrows and Swerling adapted to musical. William Ragland said in the interview that: “The reveal of old musicals keeps them fresh.” Guys and Dolls has been revived countless times since its original production and hopefully it will continue to be a musical fable of Broadway for many years to come.
Byrnside, Ron. "`Guys and Dolls': A Musical Fable of Broadway." Journal of American Culture (01911813) 19.2 (1996): 25. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 28 Mar. 2011.
Everett, William A., and Paul R. Laird. "Loesser, Frank." Historical Dictionary of the Broadway Musical. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2008. EBSCO. Web. 28 Mar. 2011.
Gordon, John Steele. "Author's choice: the 10 greatest musicals." American Heritage Feb.-Mar. 1993: 62+. General OneFile. Web. 28 Mar. 2011.
“Guys and Dolls.” Critic-O-Meter. 2 Mar. 2009. Web. 28 Mar. 2011.
Liukkonen, Petri. "Damon Runyon." Books and Writers. Creative Commons. Web. 28 Mar. 2011.
Ragland, William. “Research into the Music of Guys and Dolls.” E-mail interview.
Zolotow, Sam. "'Guys and Dolls' In Debut Tonight." The New York Times 24 Nov. 1950. New York Times Archives. Web. 28 Mar. 2011.
Research into the Music of Guys and Dolls Interview
Questions with Response
What was the main factor that helped you choose the preshow, intermission, and post show music? (Ex. was it the time period, genre, etc…)
I looked at the top hits of 1935 and picked my favorites as well as anything having to do with the topic of money, luck, and love.
Was there any part of the scripted music (Music that is part of all Guys and Dolls productions.) that you did not like? Or would have changed if you could? This includes underscoring.
I love all music written for Guys and Dolls. We did add some underscoring for enhanced atmospheric sound (ex. Hot Box in between dance numbers).
What did you consider to be most important during you casting decisions? (Ex. Vocal ability, acting, or dancing ability.)
Auditions were solely based on the prepared song - no reading from the script. I could do this because I knew most everyone who auditioned and what they were capable of. I picked the best combo of all three and also the relationship between actors. I knew dancing would be challenging for the guys, but their numbers turned out better than the girls. I'd say singing was most important, though.
Do you think that Guys and Dolls will remain a popular classic musical for many years to come? Why? Or Why not?
I do. It's remained a hit for 50 years, and if it can still resonate with contemporary teens then it will be around for a long time to come. The revival of old musicals keeps them fresh.