There are musicals with better scores. There are musicals with better stories. There are musicals with better characters. Yet, there are few shows that embody the spirit and enterprise of musical theatre better than Guys and Dolls. One of the reasons Guys and Dolls is so popular is it can run on Broadway, be performed at your local dinner theatre, or be tackled by a high school drama department and at each one of those levels it can be thoroughly enjoyable. Speaking of Broadway, Guys and Dolls tickets were first collected on the Great White Way in 1950. It won the Tony Award for Best Musical as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The original production starred Robert Alda (Alan Alda’s father), Vivian Blaine, and Stubby Kaye. Guys and Dolls has been revived for Broadway three times. The 1976 revival starred Robert Guillaume. The 1982 version was piloted by Nathan Lane and Peter Gallagher. And when it returned in 2009, the cast featured Oliver Platt and Lauren Graham. The musical was adapted for the cinema in 1955. The film starred Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, and Jean Simmons. Five songs from the musical were cut and three new ones added, all written for the Chairman of the Board. Guys and Dolls also had three runs at the New York City Center (1955, 1965, and 1966). These productions employed a variety of big-time actors including Walter Matthau, Jerry Orbach, and Sheila MacRae.
Guys and Dolls are based on several short stories by Damon Runyon. Frank Loesser was tapped to write the music and the lyrics. The original book was penned by Jo Swerling. Producers didn’t like the original book so they asked comedy writer Abe Burrows to write a new one. There was only one problem. Loesser had already written most of the music and his songs were quite good. So Burrows had to rewrite the book to fit the Loesser’s tunes. The most famous selections from Guys and Dolls are “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” and “Luck Be a Lady.”