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Emerson’s "Guys and Dolls" Shoots for Realism

Emerson Stage is producing Broadway favorite Guys and Dolls for its spring musical this weekend, but don’t expect the hyper-stylization and “cartoonish” staging you might associate with the show.

This gritty Guys and Dolls goes all the way back to the source.

“I think that’s why this production has so much life to it, because of the focus on the [Damon] Runyon stories and the fact that we’re spring-boarding from those stories of very real people,” said Lexi Lewis ’17, a Theatre Studies: Acting major and assistant director of Guys and Dolls. “Our set looks like if you turned the corner and stepped onto Broadway.”

The show, directed by Scott LaFeber, associate professor and head of Musical Theatre, will run Thursday and Friday, April 14 and 15, 8:00 pm; and Saturday, April 16, 2:00 and 8:00 pm, at the Cutler Majestic Theatre.

Guys and Dolls, written by Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling, and Abe Burrows and first produced in 1950, is based on short stories by Runyon, a journalist who wrote fiction about the gamblers and hustlers of Prohibition-era Midtown Manhattan.

Lewis said she and LaFeber began researching the musical last summer. In addition to studying the Runyon stories, the two of them pulled archived images of past productions from the Lincoln Center library to see how the show has been staged historically.

They decided to pass on the standard, stylized forced perspective set and go with a more “down-to-earth” portrayal of Runyon’s New York. But it’s still the show that won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1951.

“It’s the songs people love, just set to a different backdrop,” Lewis said.

Sam Weisberg ’17, who plays Nathan Detroit, did a little research of his own for the part.

“Nathan in the stories is modeled off an amalgam of different Jewish gangsters running New York at the time, which was an interesting bit that I felt I had missed in other productions,” Weisberg said.

Nathan runs a floating craps game, which, at the beginning of the show, needs a home. The one likely safe spot will cost him $1,000, which Nathan doesn’t have, so he bets a gambler, Sky Masterson, $1,000 that he can’t convince a woman of Nathan’s choosing to go to Havana with him.

Sky takes the bet, and Nathan picks a Christian missionary named Sarah Brown. Throughout the show, Sky pursues Sarah and Nathan tries to avoid his fiancée of 14 years, a showgirl named Adelaide.

Weisberg said some of the jokes and references in Guys and Dolls are a little dated, but the show still works as a comedy.

“I think the way these relationships are written, I think people will continue to connect with that,” Weisberg said. “And it’s fun for people to watch other people fall in love and fight, and I think that’s where this show gets it right.”

Tickets to Guys and Dolls are still available and can be purchased at

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