About this Recording
8.120786 - LOESSER: Guys and Dolls (Original Broadway Cast) (1950) / Where's Charley? (Excerpts)

Guys And Dolls
Original Broadway Cast 1950, and Alternative Versions 1950-1951
Where’s Charley? Various Recordings 1948-1952
All Music and Lyrics by Frank Loesser

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 favourite musical.

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 delightful listening.

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 strain.

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 Where’s Charley?

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 write songs.

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 assembled.

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 uninterrupted flops.

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 argument.

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 diamond necklace.

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 With Amy.

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 1952 recording.

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”.

Or as Frank wrote:
“Call it sad, call it funny,
But it’s better than even money
That the guy’s only doing it for some doll.”

Richard Ouzounian

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