An American in Chichester: Director Gordon Greenberg Brings Guys and Dolls to the U.K.

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15 Aug 2014

Gordon Greenberg
Gordon Greenberg

American director Gordon Greenberg is spending his summer abroad, immersing himself in the Golden Age of Broadway with a new production of the Frank Loesser classic Guys and Dolls, currently playing the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Known for his work on a revised Off-Broadway production of Working as well as the long-running return of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Greenburg now turns his eye to Loesser's Guys and Dolls in a new production that runs through Sept. 21. caught up with Greenberg during a recent New York trip to speak about bringing the American musical to U.K. audiences. The production stars Peter Polycarpou as Nathan Detroit, Sophie Thompson as Miss Adelaide, Clare Foster as Sarah Brown and Jamie Parker as Sky Masterson.


The Chichester production marks the 60th anniversary of Guys and Dolls' U.K. premiere, is that correct?
Gordon Greenberg : Yeah, it's the big 60th Silver Celebration. Everyone is very excited about the particularly joyous, juicy and sparkly nature of this anniversary and how that will be reflected in this production.

With your previous work on the Off-Broadway run of Jacques Brel, as well as the revised production of Working, you had the opportunity to do dramaturgical work and play with structure. Something like Guys and Dolls is pretty much perfect. What kind of resources did you take advantage of in your approach to a classic?
Gordon Greenberg : I will say that I've spent a good amount of time eating grilled cheese sandwiches with Jo Loesser and just kind of talking about her recollections of Frank and of how the piece came to be and what she loves about it and what Frank loved about it. I always think of myself as an obstetrician in trying to deliver the production in the best possible form that the writers imagined it. So it's good to get into their head and get a clearer understanding of what their hopes and dreams were for it. It's fascinating for me because most of the research that I've been doing, apart from the source material – the Damon Runyon stories – is kind of what was happening when this was written, both on Broadway and in popular media. If you look at almost any episode of "The Honeymooners," you see Nathan and Adelaide, and you see Nathan and Benny. I mean that's Jackie Gleason and Art Carney. And you look at a Phil Silvers movie and there's kind of the feel of Benny and Nicely in the title number, and there's definitely a sense of plenty and a sense of abundance and a sense of great vast optimism and possibility that I think was unique to the United States post WWII.

So how do make something that sounds so uniquely American transfer to an all-U.K. cast and design team?
Gordon Greenberg: That's been a big discussion we've been having in England – myself and the actors and the creative team – the difference between what the world looked like right after WWII in England, where they were still on rations, where the war had been fought on their home territory and they were paying the price of WWII, whereas [the U.S.] basically profited from the war machine. And we had GIs coming home with the GI Bill able to buy houses. Everyone could buy a house, everyone got a mortgage, a loan and could start a business, so there was nothing but, sort of, possibility and lights and beacons shining. So that I think, very much, informs the tone and the sense of Guys and Dolls as a fable. And I guess as Abe Burrows said, "Gangsters who act like they're in an Noel Coward play." So it's that kind of juiciness and color and optimism that, I think, in a very real and organic way, is informing our production.


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