How many times have you heard, “the movie was good, but the book was better”? As it happens, many of the stage productions either currently playing or opening soon in the Toronto area have their genesis on the page. With summer (and family summer outings) around the corner, what better time to briefly consider the source material, then go see how it translates to the stage?
Guys and Dolls, the “musical fable of Broadway” continues its current run at the Shaw Festival until October 12. Based on Damon Runyon’s short stories “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure,” as well as characters and plot elements borrowed from other stories set in Broadway during the Prohibition era, it’s been a perennial favourite since debuting on Broadway in 1950, when it won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Runyon, who was a noted journalist of his time, wrote of shysters, gamblers, gangsters and hustlers with colourful “Runyonesque” names like Nicely-Nicely Johnson (played in this production by Thom Allison), Nathan Detroit (Shawn Wright) and Harry the Horse (Evan Alexander Smith). Most remarkable about Runyon’s writing is his distinctive vernacular, known popularly as “Runyonese” which is in near-equal parts formal and slang, almost always in the present tense (for the past and future), without a contraction in sight. And it all reads…well, quite nicely-nicely, of course! The Shaw production gets an endorsement from a longtime Sesaya family who skipped their lessons over a weekend in mid-April to make the trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake to see it, returning with an enthusiastic endorsement, and particular praise for the number “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”