Thursday, March 18, 2010

Guys and Dolls

The first record I ever fell in love with was Warren Zevon’s Excitable Boy

But the second album I fell in love with was the soundtrack to the 1992 revival cast of Guys and Dolls. I was at my friend Erin’s house and her dad, who was conducting the show at the local college, played the tape for us. This began a love affair with musical theater that lasted up until college, when I lost my virginity and didn’t have to be a theater nerd anymore.

I kid, I kid. But all jokes aside, most of the theater I loved as a high schooler has fallen into the category of adolescent mistakes—Phantom of the Opera, Rent, Les Miserables, all those other wanker musicals. Only two musicals have stood the test of time, and Guys and Dolls is number one. (The other is Little Shop of Horrors). Hearing JK Simmons cheerfully snarl out the title number still sends gleeful shivers down my spine. This has almost nothing to do with the fact that over six seasons of Oz, I’ve seen the JK 1) Carving a swastika into Lee Turgeson’s ass, 2) Getting a blow job. 3) In the nude. The full nude.  Talk about having your childhood raped . . . literally.

There’s an exuberance in the music itself that transcends the actor’s own voices, from “Runyonland” (the overture) to the reprise of “Guys and Dolls.” It’s the kind of music that reminds you how wonderful musical theater really can be when in the hands of professionals, not a bunch of idiots and D-list actors (I’m looking at you, Ashlee Simpson). They just don’t write them like this anymore. “I’ve Never Been In Love Before” is one of the most beautiful love songs ever written, and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” has done more to save my soul than a whole hymnal. I still harbor a fantasy from childhood about performing “Marry the Man Today” in a talent show—to uproarious applause, of course.

I met Nathan Lane, very briefly, in 2001. My friend Ann and I snuck into a Christie’s Auction for a chance to make cocktail party chatter with the two leads of The Producers. Matthew Broderick is a charmer even if his wife is an utter cunt. And short, too. I could totally take her.

We only got to talk to Nathan Lane for a minute, but he was kind and polite, with a little sadness behind his eyes. In another circumstance, I might have asked him to sign my CD.

Ian and I flew to London to see Ewan McGregor perform in the show as Skye Masterson, which marked two things: 1) The most insane thing I’ve ever done to attract a man’s attention (it failed—next time, Ewan!) and 2) The first time I’d actually seen the show. In all those years of hearing Nathan Lane belt out “Sue Me,” I’d never actually seen a production of Guys and Dolls. I actually started to weep when Ewan sang “My Time of Day” in front of the glowing white painted moon. They never put out a cast recording, and I can no longer listen to Peter Galligher sing Skye’s part—I don’t want to ever erase Ewan’s voice from my mind.

Most albums from childhood don’t stand the test of time, but Guys and Dolls continues to enchant me. It can cheer up even the worst day, and revive my energy better than a cup of coffee. Even if I have seen Benny Southstreet in the buff.


  1. I love GUYS & DOLLS too-- On my first date with my husband-to-be, we bonded over GUYS & DOLLS--
    we still play LUCK BE A LADY TONIGHT--
    and I love IF I WERE A BELL...

    thanxx for bringing that back and bringing up the raw razor memories too-- interesting mix as always, Libby-- xx-- Elizabeth

  2. I'm sorry, I just can't get behind Guys and Dolls, and I was in it! Ewan was great and all that, but I find the music stiff, like listening to wooden puppets singing. It's abrasive and I think the reason is that the music is more sing-talking than singing. Not to mention the pacing, often the music is so fast it seems rushed, the actors barely keeping up with the tempo of the music. (see 'Rockin' the Boat')
    And there's plenty of footage of Ewan in Guys and Dolls on YouTube, and they all say it's one of the greatest musicals ever and I feel I'm in a camp of my own on this one. So why is it that everyone loves it so much. WHY is the music great?
    Anyway, the characters are great. Here's a link to the Cast interview for the show we saw:

  3. Ian,
    We SAW Guys and Dolls together! You laughed!