When Guys and Dolls opened on Broadway in the '50s the show's cast of gamblers, showgirls and missionaries, Manhattan setting, and swinging tunes buzzed audiences and quickly became one of the first musical theater classics. Played in all kinds of settings since, with casts ranging from the pathetically pre-teen to the deaf and geriatric, Guys and Dolls has proven difficult to ruin, remaining everyone's favorite for its lovable plot and classic '50s show tunes. Harvard, which according to director Colleen McGuinness '99 is predisposed towards "modern, very smart shows" rather than "big show stopper classics," is one of the few places you wouldn't expect Guys and Dolls to play. Though this "slant towards the non-traditional" was one of the lesser barriers to the show's production, Guys and Dolls will indeed open this weekend--in no less than the Hasty Pudding, which has for the last decade been the turf of the all-male theatrical company of the same name. Guys and Dolls is difficult to destroy, but it is similarly difficult to play well. This production has the promise of being as unique to the show's off-Broadway performance history as it is to Harvard theater--its particularly dedicated production staff and cast attempt to bring the script and score to their full potential.
For a show that (in the words of producer Erica Rabbit '00) aimed at being "traditional fun and light," Guys and Dolls has already tested a lot of the boundaries in Harvard theater. When their application for the Loeb Mainstage was turned down, McGuinness and her production staff were faced with the problem of finding a space big enough for the large cast and schnazzy dance numbers a good production of Guys and Dolls would require. Though they looked into the Reimann Center and the Agassiz (where West Side Story went up three years before) none of these were large enough to put on a good show, and by June of this year the production seemed to be off. The big break came when McGuinness met Michael McClung (director of the Hasty Pudding space) at a reception for Pudding Theatricals. After learning that McGuinness directed, McClung asked her if "she had any ideas for the space downstairs." By August, the orphaned production had a home in the physical epicenter of Harvard theatrical prestige, and the Guys and Dolls production crew began to realize what they had taken on.
Stage Director Angelica Chazaro '01 experienced first hand the difficulties of opening the performance space to non-Pudding theater. "In most other theaters there are already headsets and lights and sound systems--and there's none of that in here. They gave me the key to the door and said `Good luck.'" Even before they could get the key there was the problem of funding. "If you're in the Loeb you have HRDC behind you, or if you're in Gilbert and Sullivan you have G&S; behind you. We didn't have any of that, we don't have a huge budget that's been built up over the years." Choreographer Jim Augustine '01 suggests that the budget problems were "symbolic of a larger problem in the theater community--the allocation of resources based on this segregation by company." The fact that these constraints were overcome is a testament both to the excitement people had for the production, and the increasing recognition by the administration and the arts community that companies like HRDC and G&S; cannot cover theater's demand for funding and space.
The work of the Guys and Dolls production staff has not only reopened the Hasty Pudding space to a broader spectrum of Harvard theater, it has also helped start the "Rocking the Boat Theater Company." Rather than a company with the goal of producing a specific kind of production, the company is more a way to help shows that don't work into the context of other preexisting campus groups, making it easier for shows like Guys and Dolls to go up in the future. The production was strongly supported by the OFA, and also by Dean of Students Archie C. Epps III, who has been a strong proponent of opening the Pudding space to coed undergraduate theater. Agassiz Director Alan Symonds has been working towards the de-segregation of theater funding and was a major supporter of the production.
Despite the difficulties, the production itself has all the makings of a great show. McGuinness said she and Augustine "talked a lot about how the arts are segregated at Harvard, with people classified according to what they do; a cappella people, dance people, theater people." Judging from the tremendous number of non-musical theater people who auditioned solely for the show, they believe that it will "really unite all these people," serious dancers, singers and actors, many of whom are infrequent or first-time performers in musical theater, all of whom bring the richness of their own disciplines and a freshness to the musical theater genre. Also a relative newcomer to his role in the show, the work of first-time choreographer Augustine is representative of this-the large dance numbers promise to be one of the semester's theatrical highlights, carrying on the production's theme of remaking the classic in an untraditional and fantastic way. For a tastefully fresh take on both classic material and the Harvard theater scene, Guys and Dolls is a show that shouldn't be missed. They overcame the space problem; they overcame the funding problem; they're bringing a segregated arts scene together--bang, you've got a show.