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GUYS AND DOLLS

Guys and Dolls (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Rating: 8
   Well, since CosmicBen has already come out of the closet with his admiration for The Music Man, I guess I can admit my undying fondness for the much cooler Guys and Dolls (come on, Ben, “Shipoopie”?) Frank Loesser’s musical made its Broadway debut in 1950, has been revived several times there, and is probably playing at a high school or community theater near you as I write. Its timelessness lies not only with a great plot (as far as musicals go, that is – have you ever seen Carousel?) and delightful characters, but the fabulous songs: 15 full show tunes, and only two that don’t stick in my head for days afterward.
   Loesser’s tunes work for my rock and roll ears better than most show tunes, because he was tapping into some of the rhythmic currents that shortly afterward bubbled into the first rock and roll records: the strong 2-and-4 downbeats of “Fugue for Tinhorns”, the swing of “Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat”, the syncopated grace notes of “Guys and Dolls”. Even the ballads have a strong rhythmic element, with the gentle tug of the 6/8 beat in “More I Cannot Wish You” and the Sinatra-like aggressive phrasing in “My Time of Day.”
   But it really comes down to, as it always does on Broadway, the tunes. And what tunes! From the start with “I got the horse right here, his name is Paul Revere” to the closing reprise, “the guy’s only doing it for some dollllllll!”, Loesser consistently finds clever, inventive, engaging melodies to flesh out the story. Devices such as a variation on an up-and-down motif (“The Oldest Established”), big intervals for dramatic effect (“If I Were a Bell”), and rotating around a single note for a folksy tone (“More I Cannot Wish You”) all find their way into the score.
   And Loesser’s lyrics are winners, too. From the hilarious “Adelaide’s Lament” (“When they get on the train for Niagara, and she can hear church bells chime / The compartment is air conditioned, and the mood sublime / Then they get off at Saratoga for the fourteenth time”), to the tender “More I Cannot Wish You” (“Music I can wish you, merry music while you're young / And wisdom when your hair has turned to gray / But more I cannot wish you than to wish you find your love”), he strikes right to the heart of the subject with an eye for detail and an ear for dialogue. “Luck Be a Lady” smartly turns the cliché inside out, and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” finds a gambler relishing the details of his sinful life even as he decries them.
   Ever since I served as assistant curtain puller for our high school production, I’ve loved this musical, and the pleasures of singing its tunes have yet to fade. And I’m not alone: a panel of experts voted it one of the 100 greatest American musical works of the twentieth century. Excuse me while I go whistle “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”

(Consumer advisory note: almost any recording of this musical will do, but avoid the movie soundtrack. For some reason – possibly a typographical error – they cast Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson, a role with demanding vocal duties, and Frank Sinatra as Nathan Detroit, who basically only sings in a five-note range.)

READER COMMENTS

  • From CosmicBen: I appreciate the Cosmic reference in your Guys and Dolls review, although I have to stick up for "Shipoopee" -- it's cheesy but the instrumental break is one of the most memorable series of notes I've ever heard.
  • From Brittany: This is just another one of those Guys and Dolls fans but I have a question that I thought you might be able to answer!!! This is my absolute favorite musical and the first time I saw it was on TV with the ever popular cast of Frank Sinatra, Vivian Blaine, Marlon Brando, and Jean Simmons. I love this cast and haven't found one that does justice to all the songs (even Marlon Brando). I have been looking for this movie soundtrack FOREVER!!! But I can't seem to find it anywhere. The original Broadway cast is the closest I've come to finding a good version of the singers, especially since they just remastered it. I don't know if I'm not looking in the right places or maybe one just doesn't exist with all of these singers. I know of some people who would also love to buy this version of Guys and Dolls. Well, if you know anything about where I can buy one, or if there isn't one at all will you let me know?!?!

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