There’s plenty of musicals out there, and New York is always at the hub of musical theater with its Broadway shows drawing tourists from all over the globe. It’s an establishment that has managed to bring us some of the most inspiring and spellbinding performances, which have in turn lodged themselves in popular culture – “Cats,” “Wicked,” “The Lion King.”
As directors and writers become more and more ambitious, the stakes have invariably risen from Broadway’s inception, and both the sets and grandeur of performances has advanced considerably. The make-up and set design alone for “The Lion King” is extravagant, with actors donning costumes that turn them into a veritable Serengeti.
Like any art form, musical theater tends to reflect the era it came out of, both in terms of politics, language, and culture. And like any art form, we often refer back to it as a way to remember the past and partake in the particular kind of nostalgia that only music can offer. The fascination with the past, and especially with the era that spawned musical theater in the 1920’s, hasn’t lost any of its mystique or appeal over the years.
Whether it’s Kevin Costner and Sean Connery in “The Untouchables,” or a suave Johnny Depp in the latest gangster movie “Public Enemies,” we have always idealized or romanticized that time in the past when bank robbers abounded, there was a speakeasy on every street corner, and crisp suits and sharp fedoras were the norm. It’s also the reason that when we look back on musical theater, we can see a lot of American culture embedded in it.
One musical theater piece that has stood the test of time is Guys and Dolls, which premiered in the 1950’s and focused on the darker aspects of the 1920’s – primarily, illegal gambling and horse races. It follows the escapades of three small-time gamblers, one who wants to get in on a floating crap game, but who doesn’t have the $1000 credit to put on the line. He accepts a bet to take out a beautiful and hard-charmed “doll” to Havana, but things don’t go as smoothly.
The musical was such a hit that five years later it was turned into a film adaptation with Marlon Brando. Another screen adaptation is planned for 2013, starring Channing Tatum. It’ll be interesting to see Tatum belt out songs like “The Oldest Established” or “I’ve Never Been In Love Before.”
While it’s true that the style of singing has changed considerably over the years, even new releases on Broadway still take their cue from works like Guys and Dolls, in terms of choruses and narrative storytelling through song and dance. As a result, Guys and Dolls has seen numerous recurrences and reincarnations over the years, the latest being in 2009. In 2014 another show is expected to debut, with Gordon Greenberg directing.