LOESSER: Guys and Dolls
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Guys And Dolls
Original Broadway Cast 1950, and Alternative Versions 1950-1951
Where's Charley? Various Recordings 1948-1952
All Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser
Sometimes in the world of musical theatre, allthe right people come together in the rightplace at the right time.
When you do, you get Guys and Dolls.
Although it lacks the historical importanceof Oklahoma!, the cultural cachet of Porgy andBess or the sheer panache of My Fair Lady,many critics and commentators - when pressed- wind up citing Guys and Dolls as theirfavourite musical.
It's not hard to understand why. It's one ofthose rare works of art where form and functionas well as style and substance are joinedtogether with a deceptive ease that makes fordelightful listening.
Every time you breeze through FrankLoesser's terrific score, the first thought thatcomes to your mind is how good it is.The tunesbounce, the lyrics snap, the performances havejust the right edge.
Just like the rye and ginger ale highballs thatwere such popular drinks when the show cameout, it goes down nice and smooth, with apleasing kick following not too far behind.
Only later on, do you become aware of justhow smartly each song fits each character andtheir situation, with a minimum of apparentstrain.
In gambling parlance, it's a natural.
It all began with Damon Runyon (1884-1946), the hard-edged, soft-centered journalistwho filled his writing with characters who borenames like Dave the Dude and Harry the Horse.
He only wrote in the present tense (\I amwalking down Broadway last night and who doI see?") and he loved to twist a phrase ("Therace is not always to the swift, nor the battle tothe strong, but that's the way to bet.")Over the years, sixteen of his short storieswould be turned into movies, and by the late1940s, a collection of his work, called Guys andDolls, struck sophomore Broadway producersCy Feuer and Ernie Martin as perfect materialfor a musical. (For some insights into their firstshow, Where's Charley?, see below.)The major source of their inspiration was astory called "The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown",about a Salvation Army "doll"who workedamong the lowlifes in Times Square.
Runyon had based his character on the reallifeCaptain Rheba Crawford, known as "theangel of Broadway", who had led a series ofsuccessful all-night prayer meetings in theBroadway area in 1922.
As soon as Feuer and Martin secured therights, they offered the score to Frank Loesser(1910-1969) with whom they had worked onWhere's Charley?The fast-talking, New York-born Loesser wasalmost a Runyon character himself, a guy wholiked to live large. He'd wake up at 3:00 AM andmix himself a double martini before starting towrite songs.
He began his career in Hollywood in 1936,where he wrote songs for over sixty films, untilbeing lured to Broadway by Feuer and Martin.
Without knowing anything about the showexcept that it was based on Runyon's milieu, heimmediately wrote the perfect genre piece:Fugue For Tinhorns, a three-part round inwhich a trio of racetrack aficionados try to picka winning horse. The combination of classicalform and conversational slang ("I got the horseright here ...") captured the essence of howRunyon could be sung.
Hollywood screenwriter Jo Swerling tried anearly draft of the script for the show, but wasfound to lack the combination of flexibility andflair that Feuer and Martin found essential.
So they then turned to Abe Burrows, ridinghigh as the head writer on the wildly successfulradio comedy series Duffy's Tavern. He graspedthe Runyon style as quickly as Loesser had andbefore long, a promising show was beingassembled.
Veteran playwright and director George S.
Kaufman was once one of the hottest names inthe theatre, with shows like You Can't Take ItWith You and The Man Who Came To Dinner tohis credit, but when Feuer and Martinapproached him to stage Guys and Dolls, hewas in a desolate seven-year stretch ofuninterrupted flops.
Fortunately, he too rose to the occasion,badgering Burrows to keep polishing the bookand squabbling with Loesser about the numberof reprises the composer wanted in Act II.
"I'll let you play the same songs if you letme tell the same jokes," is how he settled thatargument.
The show was cast with actors, rather thansingers, although listening to this recording,most acquit themselves admirably. Robert Alda'sSky Masterson has the right world-weary raspand no one has ever made an impacted sinussound as adorable as Vivian Blaine's chronicallycatarrhal Miss Adelaide.
Borscht belt performer Stubby Kaye was awelcome addition to the musical comedy stageand his rendition of Sit Down, You'reRocking the Boat has never been bettered.
Isabel Bigley was hand-picked by Loesser tobe his shining soprano lead, but the hottemperedsongsmith grew so outraged with her"break" near the end of I'll Know that hesupposedly slapped her during an orchestrarehearsal, only to return ten minutes later with adiamond necklace.
Sam Levene's Nathan Detroit sings hardly atall, which - to be honest - is a good thing. Hischaracter originally had four songs, but theywere gradually whittled away due to the actor'svocal ineptitude, with the last one "Travelin'Light", being cut only a few hours before theNew York opening night, 24 November 1950.
The show was an enormous hit, ran 1200performances,was turned into a film starringFrank Sinatra and Marlon Brando and isconstantly being revived on Broadway, inLondon and around the world.
During its initial run, it was so popular thatnumerous "cover" versions of the songs werereleased, in versions especially doctored byLoesser. The Three-Cornered Tune, heardhere in a 1951 Dinah Shore recording is a lighthearteddistaff reworking of the "Fugue ForTinhorns" theme and Sue Me is a 1950 versionwith lyrics specially tailored for comedianMorey Amsterdam to sing solo.
The rest of this recording is a pleasingpotpourri of Loesser from this period. Where'sCharley? was his first Broadway show, whichopened in 1948 and ran for 792 performances.
This lighthearted romp was a musicalversion of that old farcical chestnut Charley'sAunt and it received fairly tepid notices. But itsurvived on genuine audience affection for thelead, Ray Bolger, and his big song Once In LoveWith Amy.
No complete original Broadway castrecording exists, because the show openedduring the 1948 "Petrillo Ban", in which thehead of the musicians' union, James Petrillobattled with the record companies over a betterdeal for his players. After the ban ended in1949, Bolger and his leading lady Allyn McLeriereleased a two-side 78 featuring the popular"Amy" and the love song Make a Miracle.
This CD also features cover versions of TheNew Ashmolean Marching Society AndStudents Conservatory Band by JohnnyMercer (1949) as well as My Darling, MyDarling from Jo Stafford and Gordon Macrae(1948). Norman Wisdom played the leadingrole in the London production and his Once InLove With Amy is represented as well in this1952 recording.
The recording ends with a pair of selectionsfrom Loesser and his then-wife, Lynn, who releasedtheir version of Make a Miracle in 1949.
Frank and Lynn used to perform at parties andtheir most popular piece is also included here:Baby, It's Cold Outside. It wound up beingused in the 1949 film, Neptune's Daughter andwon Loesser his only Oscar in 1950.
A final note about the couple. Lynn wasnotoriously acrimonious and obsessed withmoney. Many of Frank's friends were delightedwhen he finally divorced her in the 1950s,although it meant an end to one of theirwickedest witticisms: referring to Lynn as