My one-two punch in theatre was the pre-Broadway touring production of Hello, Dolly! in 1994 that starred Carol Channing, followed just a few weeks later by Guys and Dolls on my high school stage.
Looking back, I was very blessed to have experienced that. Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly!—it doesn’t get any better than that—but Guys and Dolls was the first time I had seen a play at my high school (and I was a senior that year). I have since come to see that not all high school and college drama departments are created equal, so it was exceptional that I saw such a strong production of one of the best musicals ever, Guys and Dolls. How could I not become a big fan of musicals after that?
However, I was sorely disappointed by the film versions of both musicals. I rented them hoping to capture of bit of the magic I had experienced on stage, and both were lacking the zest of a live performance. I was particularly disappointed by Guys and Dolls because of the cuts and additions to the score, not to mention Marlon Brando’s awkward singing voice.
Anyway, where was this going . . . Oh yes, the most recent DVD of Guys and Dolls promises a bonus feature about taking it from “stage to screen.” Those features, such as the one on the DVD of Can-Can, can be invaluable in understanding the process of creating Broadway musicals. On Can-Can, for example, we were even given some footage of Gwen Verdon performing in the original Broadway production.
Well, I am disappointed to report that the DVD of Guys and Dolls doesn’t really discuss the Broadway show as a whole, mostly in terms of the creation of the movie. For example, Michael Kidd reveals that some of his Broadway choreography was basically kept in tact for the movie (which, by the way, makes Guys and Dolls a great study on the difference between stage musicals today and in the Golden Age, because some of those dances would be too exaggerated for today’s audiences).
It’s interesting to hear one historian comment on Vivian Blaine giving a stage performance in the film, suggesting that her performance doesn’t fit comfortably next to Frank Sinatra’s subdued film performance, though I would suggest it is because Vivian Blaine realizes that she’s playing a character part, while Frank Sinatra could not pull off character acting. After all, Nathan Detroit is supposed to be a comedic character, not a leading man.
The most interesting aspect for Broadway fans who didn’t care for the movie is hearing Frank Loesser’s children discuss both the show and Loesser’s thoughts about the mutations made for the movie.
the Broadway Mouth
June 12, 2008
P.S. For info on bonus features and documentaries from shows like Hairspray, Rent, The Wedding Singer, and Can-Can, click on Broadway documentaries below.