Capping a weekend of events celebrating the show's 50th anniversary, the Guys and Dolls exhibit at the Museum of the City of New York officially opened on Monday night, November 27. Attending the cocktail reception were Isabel Bigley Barnett (the original Sarah Brown), Alvin Colt (costume designer), Cy Feuer (producer), Iva Withers (who succeeded Vivian Blaine in the role of Adelaide), Jo Sullivan Loesser (widow of composer-lyricist Frank Loesser), and Anne Kaufman Schneider (daughter of director George S. Kaufman). A trio of Salvation Army musicians greeted the gathering of performers, historians, and theatre lovers. A proclamation was read on behalf of Mayor Guiliani.
The exhibit features biographical information about the show's creators: songwriter Loesser, book writers Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling, producers Cy Feuer and Ernie Martin, designers Colt and Jo Mielziner, and about Damon Runyon, the newspaper writer whose stories inspired them all. On display are original and reconstructed costumes, costume sketches, set paintings, Hirschfeld drawings, opening night telegrams, and even the letter Isabel Bigley received from the American Theatre Wing, informing her that she would be presented with an Antoinette Perry ("Tony") award. (In the 1950s, no one but the voters knew who was being considered. The winners were announced at a formal dinner.)
Helping to set the scene, are panels about the show's milieu: Prohibition era cabarets, the show girls, gamblers, and bootleggers who frequented them, and the Salvation Army officers who tried to save them from temptation.
The exhibit, fully titled “Guys and Dolls: The Fabled Musical of Broadway,” had its public opening Nov. 24. The exhibit continues to June 10, 2001. The show, drawn from stories and characters created by New York scribe Damon Runyon, opened Nov. 25, 1950.
Composer-lyricist Loesser got some of his biggest hits out of Guys and Dolls, which is considered one of the best-crafted musical comedies of the 20th century. The score includes "If I Were a Bell," "I've Never Been in Love Before," "My Time of Day," "I'll Know," "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat," "A Bushel and a Peck," "Luck Be a Lady," the title number and more. The show had a libretto by Abe Burrows and Jo Swerling and was directed by George S. Kaufman. Feuer and Ernie Martin produced. Michael Kidd choreographed. The musical ran 1,200 performances and enjoyed a smash revival in 1992. Both shows also sent out touring companies.
Using the museum's theatre collection, the exhibition offers a visual history of the show's creation and puts the musical in historical context, offering related media such as paintings and photos of the 1920s New York that Runyon was writing about in his short stories and newspaper columns. "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown," which makes up the central love story in the musical, was published in Collier's in 1933.
"Guys and Dolls: The Fabled Musical of Broadway" is supported by Jo Sullivan Loesser, James and Debbie Burrows, Isabel Bigley Barnett and Frank Music Corp.
The Museum of the City of New York is at 1220 Fifth Avenue at 103 Street in Manhattan. Suggestion admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, students and children. For more information, call (212) 534-1672 or visit the website at www.mcny.org.
Guys and Dolls originally starred Robert Alda as woman-shy gambler Sky Masterson, Sam Levene as marriage-shy Nathan Detroit, Vivian Blaine as nightclub performer Adelaide (Nathan's longtime fiancee) and Bigley as the Save-a-Soul Mission "doll" who tempts Sky. A film version starred Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Blaine and Jean Simmons.
— By Kenneth Jones
and Amy Asch