Dames and Dice

Gambler “Nicely-Nicely” Johnson (Jonathan Winn) flirts with Hot-Box Club dancer Adelaide (Jill Ritchie), while soul-saver Sgt. Sarah Brown (center, Amy Throckmorton), looks on in disapproval.


So says Nathan Detroit, proud proprietor of the “oldest, established, permanent, floating crap-game in New York.”u0000

But complications arise when the guys are professional gamblers and the dolls – a prim Salvation Army-style missionary and an aging nightclub dancer – have respectability on their minds. Things get even more complicated when one gambler bets another that he can’t sweet-talk the soul-saving Sgt. Sarah Brown into spending the night with him in Havana.

Add to that a fantastic Frank Loesser score and Damon Runyon’s inimitable prose, and you’ve got Guys and Dolls. The classic 1950s musical fable comes to the Bing Theater Feb. 24 for a 10-day run.

The show is part of the School of Theatre’s celebration of its 50th season producing dramas and musicals. The cast of more than 40 is directed by Nikki Hevesy, with musical direction by Mitch Hanlon, assistant conductor for the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. Hanlon received his master’s degree from the School of Music in 1989.

The musical’s four principal characters are Sgt. Sarah (played by freshman Amy Throckmorton), whose thorny task it is to convert New York’s underworld of crap-shooters and chorus girls from sinners to saints; Sky Masterson (played by junior Walker Mullin), a man so addicted to gambling that he once refused penicillin to win a bet that his temperature would rise to 104 degrees; Hot-Box Club chorus girl Adelaide (played by senior Jill Ritchie), who suffers from a perpetual psychosomatic cold caused by a 14-year engagement that never results in a wedding; and fast-talking shyster Nathan Detroit (played by Matt Garcia, a second-year graduate student in cinema-television), who must find a locale for his crap game or face the wrath of a visiting Chicago gangster.

Hanlon conducts a 20-piece orchestra, backing up musical numbers that include “If I Were a Bell,” “Take Back Your Mink” and “Luck Be a Lady.” A spirited “Havana” dance number, choreographed by adjunct assistant professor of movement and dance Jay Fuentes, includes voluptuous mambos. The Havana nightclub fight scene – complete with punches and hair-pulling – was choreographed by UC Irvine acting professor Chris Villa.u0000

Guys and Dolls is based on stories by Damon Runyon, a reporter from the Midwest who wrote for Collier’s in the 1930s. He spun tales of the gangsters he “rubbed elbows with in restaurants like Lindy’s,” said Hevesy. “He romanticized them,” she said, “so a lot of the characters have these cowboy Western-hero-type values, even though they’re New York tough guys.” Hevesy grew up in New York City, so she knows the flavor of Times Square, and she lived and worked as an actor and director in San Francisco for a dozen years. She founded her own non-profit theater company and directed a one-man musical for the National Theatre of Uganda, Africa, before returning to school to finish her MFA in directing at the School of Theatre.

Guys and Dolls is Hevesy’s thesis project, as it is for stage manager Vanessa J. Noon, costume designer Joan Stapleton-Francis and lighting designer Kris Sandheinrich.u0000

The action takes place on the colorful streets of Times Square, circa the ’50s. The 10-set show is complicated, said scenic designer Don Llewellyn, an associate professor and head of scenic design in the School of Theatre. “The original production,” Llewellyn said, “was all painted drops. Our set is more sculptural, a little more real texture.”

Since the production couldn’t afford neon signs for street scenes, Llewellyn will create the “impression” of neon instead. Other sets call for the moonlit romance of Havana and the steamy stench of a New York sewer.

The show is filled with strong singing voices, said Hevesy, and exceptional dancers. To take advantage of this abundant hoofing talent, Hevesy cast extra nightclub dancers and inserted tap routines that usually get cut from Guys and Dolls revivals. One scene will resemble “a Busby Berkeley number, with big headpieces,” she said.

The attraction of musical theater, according to Hevesy, is that it combines acting, dancing and singing. “Musical theater is the synthesis of all the art forms,” she said.

In Guys and Dolls, this fusion creates a magical world where sinners can repent and missionaries can loosen up.

“That’s one of the things Damon Runyon did,” said Hevesy. “He brought people from all different walks of life together.”u0000u0000u0000