Director Notes: A Great Evening at the Theatre

Director Notes: A Great Evening at the Theatre


Who wouldn’t want to do Guys and Dolls? It’s such a great evening at the theater It has great music, it has
opportunities for great dance. The characters are famously vivid and sort of unusual and quirky. It has such a joyful aspect to it. It’s
so full of life. It’s a great American classic of musical theater. It’s a real
old-fashioned musical musical with great funny
scenes characters, dance, songs and all that. For me it is… some people who might know other parts of my work or what I mostly do
might think it odd that I’m doing something that is already so successful
and so well known and it has been around for so long as a great work of
theater. For me it’s actually rather radical to
take on something like that, although the stories that
I’ve done all my life have in their own cultures or in sort of
different worlds and literary worlds been as classic and as vital and as central as Guys and Dolls is to the American
musical theatre canon. I mean the Odyssey is sort of central to Western narrative for
instance, and I’ve done that. Or White Snake is as common in China as Cinderella is here. So, it is another… I’ve always done
classics, but maybe not classics of, you know, this world, the contemporary world so much. But, I
have thought about the fact that what I’ve always been interested in my work is radical transformation, or even transfiguration. In White Snake, the women are also snakes, and there’s a kind of radical
transformation in gaining a human heart or soul and in lots of my shows unusual things happen where people turn into birds or whatever. And in a way, Guy Masterson’s and Nathan Detroit’s conversions in Guys and Dolls are just as miraculous as someone’s transformation into a bird or a woman into a snake. When you think about it, going from being an outlaw gangster, confirmed bachelor to wholly, happily domesticated and sort of giving up the life, and I hope I’m not spoiling any end of Guys and Dolls for people. But, there is transformation. And just like in all the myths and the fairy tales, though,they actually are transforming back to what they are inside. I feel like Sky Masterson has a hidden sort of sensitivity and interiority
that’s hinted at by the fact that he actually knows
the Bible very well, that his real name is Obediah that is brought out by Sarah. Sarah is his match. And Nathan and Adelaide are so…they’re already
perfectly matched and have been for fourteen years. He’s just gotta come around to in a way giving up his fantasy that he’s a free man. He hasn’t been for fourteen years. And, do the deal, you know. that he’s been sort of afraid of doing, marrying her. You know, I’ve only done a couple of
musicals now before this, although I’ve worked in opera quite a bit now. But, there’s something about rehearsing with music that makes one’s job even more delightful, also maddening because you don’t get the tunes out of your head ever, but you sort of get to ride on the genius of those musics and the lyrics lyrically it’s so, good, it’s so funny and smart and
complete, and you get to ride on that energy, and it lifts the room. It’s very hard to be tired or down or despondent or anything when you’re in the room with that music every day, and there’s just a great joyfulness and you know as a director, I get to also somewhat just stand by while they’re learning the music. I get to just listen. That’s not as much my job as it is my musical director’s Doug Peck, so that they can practice the music and learn the music but you know you’re in a room with singing and dancing, and I’ve noticed ever since I was a student and took dance class, that it didn’t matter what mood I went into class and you come out kind of exhilarated and washed clean in terms of your mood And I think, you know, that’s probably what accounts for the popularity of musicals, obviously. There’s something about that rhythmic drive, those tunes that our bodies and our mood responds to so joyfully. I’m not saying there’s not sad moments, and melancholy moments and ballads that affect us very deeply, and tragedy affects us very, very deeply, obviously, washes out in a different way. But it does, literally, lift the spirits. And, that’s true of the company, and the director and the choreographer and everyone in the room as it is for the audience. So it’s great fun to work on a musical. It’s always scary. There’s always a ton to do. When you do a musical, you know, you’ve got to give hours and hours and hours to music, and hours and hours and hours to the dance As well as hours and hours to what you normally give time to. which is developing the characters and the scenes and the story and the plot making sure it’s clear that it’s rising
and falling and accelerating and slowing down when it’s
supposed to. All of those thousands of choices there are always still there, too. But then there’s all these other tasks of learning the spectacle of it. But that’s all so much fun and it’s very, very collaborative, you know, because you have a choreographer and the musical director. You’re not just out there alone as the director. So, yeah, it’s very.. unusual for me to work on a musical. It’s only really I guess really my third, and the other two I had a big hand in the writing of, or the making of. I, myself, have not spent my life in musicals and going to musicals, and I, myself, actually prefer this rather more old-fashioned musical where there are actual book scenes and lots of laughs and character development and plot. and I’ve actually said for twenty
years, “I don’t’ necessarily like contemporary musicals so much. I like Guys and Dolls.” I actually would use that phrase. And I think, you know, even if you think you don’t like musicals, there’s…how do I say this?.. there’s
absolutely nothing pretentious. There’s nothing assuming about it. There’s no actual aura of importance, and yet or like aura of ‘admire this, admire this,’ and yet it’s deeply admirable because it’s brilliantly constructed, it’s
such a full evening at the theater. The tunes and the
lyrics are so good and so smart, and the
characters are really, really memorable, and it clips along, you know. And even though, in a way, it has such a fairy tale, almost sentimental ending, there’s no moment of this musical that’s kind of lax or pretending something that it’s not. It’s an open-handed entertainment which has a very hopeful longing in it that all can work out and that we will become ourselves through the
encounter with others that bring out our real selves to the other and that all will join hands in the end. And that’s something that
always appeals to us, that hope that we will find our match and somehow be changed and sort of completed by this match. And the show itself sort of promises that there aren’t aren’t actually enemies, that we all have the same heart of gold underneath, or at least most people do, and that that will win out in the end, even in this supposedly sort of seedy world of outlaws in showgirls, everyone kind of just wants their little bit of happiness and they are chasing it in different ways but in the end they get it in an actually
rather conventional way. That’s not so much dwelt on. It’s
all the fun of their world that’s so appealing.

2 thoughts on “Director Notes: A Great Evening at the Theatre

  1. Guys and Dolls is my favorite musical comedy; OSF is my favorite production company; and these comments have won me over to Mary Zimmerman as a great director

  2. I've never been a fan of plays or musicals, I went to this to impress a girl, I LOVED IT!!!!  I cant get over how good this show was!!!!!!!

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