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ClassicsOnline Home » LOESSER: Guys and Dolls (Original Broadway Cast) (1950) / Where's Charley? (Excerpts)
Sometimes in the world of musical theatre, all
the right people come together in the right
place at the right time.
When you do, you get Guys and Dolls.
Although it lacks the historical importance
of Oklahoma!, the cultural cachet of Porgy and
Bess or the sheer panache of My Fair Lady,
many critics and commentators – when pressed
– wind up citing Guys and Dolls as their
It’s not hard to understand why. It’s one of
those rare works of art where form and function
as well as style and substance are joined
together with a deceptive ease that makes for
Every time you breeze through Frank
Loesser’s terrific score, the first thought that
comes to your mind is how good it is.The tunes
bounce, the lyrics snap, the performances have
just the right edge.
Just like the rye and ginger ale highballs that
were such popular drinks when the show came
out, it goes down nice and smooth, with a
pleasing kick following not too far behind.
Only later on, do you become aware of just
how smartly each song fits each character and
their situation, with a minimum of apparent
In gambling parlance, it’s a natural.
It all began with Damon Runyon (1884-
1946), the hard-edged, soft-centered journalist
who filled his writing with characters who bore
names like Dave the Dude and Harry the Horse.
He only wrote in the present tense (“I am
walking down Broadway last night and who do
I see?”) and he loved to twist a phrase (“The
race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to
the strong, but that’s the way to bet.”)
Over the years, sixteen of his short stories
would be turned into movies, and by the late
1940s, a collection of his work, called Guys and
Dolls, struck sophomore Broadway producers
Cy Feuer and Ernie Martin as perfect material
for a musical. (For some insights into their first
show, Where’s Charley?, see below.)
The major source of their inspiration was a
story called “The Idyll Of Miss Sarah Brown”,
about a Salvation Army “doll”who worked
among the lowlifes in Times Square.
Runyon had based his character on the reallife
Captain Rheba Crawford, known as “the
angel of Broadway”, who had led a series of
successful all-night prayer meetings in the
Broadway area in 1922.
As soon as Feuer and Martin secured the
rights, they offered the score to Frank Loesser
(1910-1969) with whom they had worked on
The fast-talking, New York-born Loesser was
almost a Runyon character himself, a guy who
liked to live large. He’d wake up at 3:00 AM and
mix himself a double martini before starting to
He began his career in Hollywood in 1936,
where he wrote songs for over sixty films, until
being lured to Broadway by Feuer and Martin.
Without knowing anything about the show
except that it was based on Runyon’s milieu, he
immediately wrote the perfect genre piece:
Fugue For Tinhorns, a three-part round in
which a trio of racetrack aficionados try to pick
a winning horse. The combination of classical
form and conversational slang (“I got the horse
right here …”) captured the essence of how
Runyon could be sung.
Hollywood screenwriter Jo Swerling tried an
early draft of the script for the show, but was
found to lack the combination of flexibility and
flair that Feuer and Martin found essential.
So they then turned to Abe Burrows, riding
high as the head writer on the wildly successful
radio comedy series Duffy’s Tavern. He grasped
the Runyon style as quickly as Loesser had and
before long, a promising show was being
Veteran playwright and director George S.
Kaufman was once one of the hottest names in
the theatre, with shows like You Can’t Take It
With You and The Man Who Came To Dinner to
his credit, but when Feuer and Martin
approached him to stage Guys and Dolls, he
was in a desolate seven-year stretch of
Fortunately, he too rose to the occasion,
badgering Burrows to keep polishing the book
and squabbling with Loesser about the number
of reprises the composer wanted in Act II.
“I’ll let you play the same songs if you let
me tell the same jokes,” is how he settled that
The show was cast with actors, rather than
singers, although listening to this recording,
most acquit themselves admirably. Robert Alda’s
Sky Masterson has the right world-weary rasp
and no one has ever made an impacted sinus
sound as adorable as Vivian Blaine’s chronically
catarrhal Miss Adelaide.
Borscht belt performer Stubby Kaye was a
welcome addition to the musical comedy stage
and his rendition of Sit Down, You’re
Rocking the Boat has never been bettered.
Isabel Bigley was hand-picked by Loesser to
be his shining soprano lead, but the hottempered
songsmith grew so outraged with her
“break” near the end of I’ll Know that he
supposedly slapped her during an orchestra
rehearsal, only to return ten minutes later with a
Sam Levene’s Nathan Detroit sings hardly at
all, which – to be honest – is a good thing. His
character originally had four songs, but they
were gradually whittled away due to the actor’s
vocal ineptitude, with the last one “Travelin’
Light”, being cut only a few hours before the
New York opening night, 24 November 1950.
The show was an enormous hit, ran 1200
performances,was turned into a film starring
Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando and is
constantly being revived on Broadway, in
London and around the world.
During its initial run, it was so popular that
numerous “cover” versions of the songs were
released, in versions especially doctored by
Loesser. The Three-Cornered Tune, heard
here in a 1951 Dinah Shore recording is a lighthearted
distaff reworking of the “Fugue For
Tinhorns” theme and Sue Me is a 1950 version
with lyrics specially tailored for comedian
Morey Amsterdam to sing solo.
The rest of this recording is a pleasing
potpourri of Loesser from this period. Where’s
Charley? was his first Broadway show, which
opened in 1948 and ran for 792 performances.
This lighthearted romp was a musical
version of that old farcical chestnut Charley’s
Aunt and it received fairly tepid notices. But it
survived on genuine audience affection for the
lead, Ray Bolger, and his big song Once In Love
No complete original Broadway cast
recording exists, because the show opened
during the 1948 “Petrillo Ban”, in which the
head of the musicians’ union, James Petrillo
battled with the record companies over a better
deal for his players. After the ban ended in
1949, Bolger and his leading lady Allyn McLerie
released a two-side 78 featuring the popular
“Amy” and the love song Make a Miracle.
This CD also features cover versions of The
New Ashmolean Marching Society And
Students Conservatory Band by Johnny
Mercer (1949) as well as My Darling, My
Darling from Jo Stafford and Gordon Macrae
(1948). Norman Wisdom played the leading
role in the London production and his Once In
Love With Amy is represented as well in this
The recording ends with a pair of selections
from Loesser and his then-wife, Lynn, who released
their version of Make a Miracle in 1949.
Frank and Lynn used to perform at parties and
their most popular piece is also included here:
Baby, It’s Cold Outside. It wound up being
used in the 1949 film, Neptune’s Daughter and
won Loesser his only Oscar in 1950.
A final note about the couple. Lynn was
notoriously acrimonious and obsessed with
money. Many of Frank’s friends were delighted
when he finally divorced her in the 1950s,
although it meant an end to one of their
wickedest witticisms: referring to Lynn as “the
evil of two Loessers”.
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