Guys and Dolls (1950)
Guys and Dolls is widely considered one of the most popular musicals ever created. The idea for this musical is based off of a series of short stories by author, Damon Runyon. Runyon’s stories were based in the 1920s, and 30s, and dealt with life and times of characters that inhabited New York City. These characters were mainly gangsters, and gamblers. While the plot of the musical is, overall, entertaining and nostalgic, it is not necessary to know much of the backstory to observe and reflect the music which accompanies it.
The music and lyrics you will hear in Guys and Dolls are by Frank Loesser, who up until the time he wrote for this musical, was a well known for his composing and writing for movie musicals. Little did he know that he would be creating songs that would permeate through the realm of musical theater into pop culture, and would still be popular today. This show premiered on Broadway on November 24th, 1950, and immediately captured the eyes and ears of its audience. The score reflects the styles of music that were popular in the 1920s and 30s. These decades were known for big band, and swing music, which Loesser portrays in the composition of the show’s songs. From the show’s overture through to the very end, the music is always swinging.
For example, the song “Luck Be A Lady Tonight”, which is widely known, and not only by those in the musical theater community, is fast paced, swung, and has all of the instruments that one would think would be in a big band. The drums, which is the backbone for most of swing music, provide a great jumping off point for the strings and high brass which work beautifully together in bringing the listener back to the 1920s. The transitions between songs are not long and drawn out, but rather quick, filled with meaningful dialogue, and most important of all, smooth.
Even the one samba song in the musical, “Havana”, is creatively composed, calling for a certain level of improvisation from the musicians playing the score. This song appears at the end of the first act, and is there to create a level of separation. There are not a lot of sung vocals in this piece because it is a dance number. The music and creatively choreographed dance acts as an ironic buffer between many swing standards. In this musical, Loesser tells us a story through his composition. The acting, producing, and directing only add to the fact that this is a timeless show. The recorded version, which captured the original Broadway actors’ talent, really shows that this is audible gold.