Guys and Dolls is one of the most enduring and acclaimed Broadway musicals of all time but it was not an easy road getting the show on stage. It was originally conceived as a serious romantic musical with Frank Loesser on board as composer and lyricist. Producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin eventually got through 10 librettists and one libretto before deciding to make the project a comedy and hiring Jo Swerling to write the book.
However several months later Swerling was replaced with a new writer, Abe Burrows, who had worked in radio and television but had no theatrical experience. Burrows based his story on several of Damon Runyon’s short stories of 1940s New York, notably “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure” as well as some of the characters and incidents already established in Swerling’s libretto.
Guys and Dolls premiered on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre on 24 November 1950 and enjoyed a run of 1,200 performances and won five Tony awards in 1951 including Best Musical. The original cast included Robert Alda, Vivian Blaine, Sam Levene and Isabel Bigley.
The West End production premiered at the London Coliseum on 28 May 1953. Vivian Blaine and Sam Levene recreated their roles and were joined by Jerry Wayne and Lizbeth Webb. The production ran for 555 performances.
This led to the film version in 1955 from the studios of Samuel Goldwyn Company. Gene Kelly was a favourite for the role of Sky. Instead it went to Marlon Brando, then one of the screen’s greatest actors, partly because MGM would not loan Kelly for the production, but also because Goldwyn wanted to cast Brando, the biggest box office draw at that moment. Ironically, the film ended up being distributed by MGM, Kelly’s home studio. There was some controversy over the casting of Frank Sinatra as Nathan as Loesser was unhappy with the choice of Sinatra as he felt he was too slick for the part and didn’t like the way he “crooned” his songs. This resulted in Loesser and Sinatra never speaking to each other again after the film was finished. Marilyn Monroe was also considered for the part of Miss Adelaide but director Joseph L. Mankiewicz refused to work with her. The part was reprised by Vivian Blaine. Grace Kelly was considered for the role of Miss Sarah Brown but the part eventually went to Jean Simmons.
There have been several revival productions over the years including an all-black cast production on Broadway in 1976, a London production at the National in 1982 and most notably the 1992 Broadway revival, which won four Tony Awards. In 2005 a new West End production opened at the Piccadilly Theatre before a national tour.
Famous actors who have starred in this epic show over the years include Walter Matthau, Bob Hoskins, Imelda Staunton, Nathan Lane, Lulu, Ewan McGregor, Claire Sweeney, Jane Krakowski and the late Patrick Swayze.
This classic show remains popular sixty years on giving audiences a glimpse of post-war New York and is deemed by many as the perfect musical, combining witty plotlines with catchy showtunes – something for everyone.