Backstage with 'Guys and Dolls'

12/16/05 12:00AM By Betty Smith-Mastaler
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(Host) In White River Junction, the curtain has gone up on an icon of the theater where the songs are familiar and the themes are enduring.

VPR's Betty Smith takes us Backstage into Damon Runyon's world of Guys and Dolls.

(Smith) It's a story, or a group of stories really, about anticipation. Anticipation for change after World War Two.

Northern Stage in White River Junction decided to take on the clashing themes of faith and gambling, past and future, love and commitment.

Director Brooke Ciardelli:

(Ciardelli) "The original stories were created post WWI on the brink of major change. We didn't know what was coming but there was a sense of "the world's about to be completely different". And the musical was premiered in the early 50's, again post WWII on the brink of what was about to be a major change - the 60's. So, it has the love story as it strings through it, but it also has all the themes of what's about to burst open."

(Smith) We're transported to a big city street with sets that feature brick walls, trash cans and street lights - and costumes with pinstripes, wide lapels and fedora hats.

At first, it's a world in suspension. Two of the lead characters, Nathan and Adelaide, have been engaged for 14 years. And everybody is obsessed with trying to predict, and profit on the future. It's a world of gamblers. They'll bet on anything, from the horses to whether the local deli sells more cheesecake than streudel.

(Salvation Army band plays under performers)

(Smith) Then along comes Miss Sarah Brown, played here by Shanara Gabrielle with her Salvation Army band, and her mission of faith.

Sky Masterson, so named because he's notorious for betting "sky high", played by Edwin Cahill, makes the bet of his life to win Sarah's love.

He bets a small fortune against the souls of the other gamblers and rolls the dice.

(Sky) "I'm gonna role the dice. I'll bet each of you $1,000 against your soul. $1,000 cash against a marker for your soul. If I win you all show up at the mission tonight."
(Guys) "I'm in.Okay by me "
(Sky) "You too Nathan. A thousand dollars cash for your soul."
(Nathan) "Me? I don't even know if I got a soul."
(Sky) "You've got one there someplace."
(Nathan) "All right, how do you spell soul?"
(Sky) "All right, all right, put down your makers. Give me the dice. And give me room. I've never rolled for a hundred g's before. But I got a little bit more than doe ridin' on this one."

(Sky begins "Luck Be A lady Tonight")

(Smith) He wins the bet and the world of Guys and Dolls is turned upside down.

Because when Sarah embraces the gambler, she also embraces risk, which tempers the certainty of her faith.

So Sarah marries Sky and Adelaide marries Nathan and everyone attends a prayer meeting where the collision between faith and risk is neatly summed up in a moment full of contradictions, when gambler, Nicely Nicely, played here by Maurice Parent, gets everyone on their feet to testify by singing about sitting down.

(Nicely Nicely Johnson sings Sit Down You're Rocking the Boat")

(Smith) Director Brooke Ciardelli says that the evergreen appeal of Guys and Dolls lies in its comic treatment of how to survive during uncertain times by keeping faith and risking love.

(Ciardelli) "It's a little vacation or holiday from the holidays a little break from the traffic and shopping and register lines and parking lots. And everyone can come and take a couple hours and sort of disappear into this often comic, often heart warming Christmas show."

("Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat" reprise.)

(Smith) For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Betty Smith.

Note: Except for Dec 24th, 25th and 31st Northern Stage's holiday production of Guys and Dolls runs daily until Jan 1 at the Briggs Opera House in downtown White River Junction.
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