This weekend, CUTC will be presenting Guys & Dolls. The classic 1950 musical is still considered by many to be one of the best musicals of all time, and fully deserving of the Pulitzer it was denied. With its style and humor, it is no wonder the male roles have attracted such talent as Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Robert Guillome, Nathan Lane, and Ewan McGregor. Mace Mackiewicz got director John Stuff to give him the rundown on the production of the musical.
Smile Politely: What influenced you to choose Guys & Dolls for the summer musical?
John Stuff: I will say it has always been one of my favorite shows so saying yes didn’t take a lot of thought. I first directed it for CUTC 21 years ago when we did it in 1994. Two friends and I actually got up early on a cold February Friday morning, DROVE to New York City, stayed with a friend of mine, went to see Guys & Dolls on Broadway Saturday afternoon, took lots of notes and got lots of ideas, got up early Sunday morning and drove all the way home! All during one of the worst snow storms NYC had seen in years! Crazy things theater people do.
SP: You’ve obviously been preparing for this production for a long time, so has that positively affected rehearsals, or have there been obstacles?
Stuff: Rehearsals have gone extremely well. The cast is wonderful and very talented which makes my job easier. They’re very adept people who are remembering things and picking things up very quickly. That being said, scheduling is always a huge issue. People are busy with vacations and summer activities, so it’s always a challenge directing a summer production. There is no way to schedule rehearsals taking everyone’s conflicts into account. I sat down with the script months ago and divided the scenes (there are 17 scenes in the complete show) into 30 rehearsal scenes to make the best use of actor’s time – dividing the scripted scenes up depending on who is involved on certain pages so people are not sitting around through 8 pages of script until they are needed in the scene. Over the years I have found actors really appreciate not having to sit around for hours with nothing to do! Even so, it has definitely been a challenge rehearsing a scene when a character is gone for a week on vacation, but everyone else just pitches in and covers for that person, and they work extra hard when they return to catch up. As we get closer to opening night, if we need to we will make adjustments if people aren’t able to learn the dance moves or blocking due to not being at those rehearsals, it’s just one of the headaches of directing!
SP: What is it like coordinating everyone with different costumes, sets, and songs? Can it get overwhelming working with so many people and moving parts?
Stuff: I have to say it truly takes a community to create community theatre! We are fortunate to have very talented people helping out in each aspect of this show, and coordinating everyone is the Producer’s job (Prue Runkle) although I am enough of a control freak to keep my nose in what everyone is doing as well to make sure my vision of the show happens. We are actually using the set design from the 1994 production, designed by Stuart Cartwright. I have adapted it to fit Parkland’s stage since the ’94 show was done at the larger Virginia Theater. We even have a couple of pieces from that show we will be using in this show! It has also been extremely rewarding that so many friends from over the years all agreed to come back and assist me with this show building sets, choreographing, sewing costumes, designing hair styles, collecting and making props, scheduling promotional appearances and interviews, etc. It’s a long list! Juggling all the people can be a challenge, but keeping the lines of communication open and frequent meetings with each person alleviates issues as we near opening night. Just coordinating the move into the theater is a huge challenge. Moving the set from the construction site, aiming and focusing the lights, moving all the costumes in and setting up dressing rooms, setting up quick change costume places (there are numerous quick changes in the show), setting up the sound mics, hanging the large scenic drops we are renting, setting up the orchestra pit. It’s a big effort and can easily get very frustrating figuring out who gets to use the stage at any particular time.
SP: Guys & Dolls is a relatively old musical. How are you keeping it fresh so that people will want to see this particular production of the show? Is there anything that will make CUTCs version different than all the previous iterations?
Stuff: It is a very familiar show that has been done frequently over the years which is good and bad. A director needs to make it fresh, but cannot change things up too much due to copyright laws as well as people’s expectations. I will say frequently the show is done with more “subdued” colors and we have gone with very bright, vibrant costumes thanks to our costumer Paula Wolken. Bright plaids, stripes and vibrant jewel-tone colors will bring Damon Runyon’s characters to life in an exciting way. I also use the actor’s individual talents to bring out nuances in the character they are playing that would be different from any other production play to each actor’s strengths and use their God-given talents to bring new facets to the characters they play.
SP: What else would you like to add about your production and this show?
Stuff: When I was asked to direct this show, one of the things I was encouraged to do was reach out to people who used to be involved with CUTC and for whatever reason had not been involved for some time — and it has been very humbling to hear so many friends say “If you’re doing a show I’m there!” and they have been. There is a one-line, walk-on role in the first act so I decided to contact former “stars” of CUTC shows and ask them to return for one night and do that one line. It will be exciting for me to have these eight friends coming back, some have not been on stage for many years and do this walk-on part playing a drunk or bag lady and deliver their one line. I hope the public can put aside “real life” for a night and make their way to Parkland’s theater and enjoy a night of laughter and familiar tunes and watch their neighbors and local citizens perform in an outstanding production.
Guys & Dolls will be performed at the Harold and Jean Miner Theatre at Parkland College from July 30th to August 2nd and August 6-9 at 7:30 p.m., with only a 2:30 p.m. matinee on Sundays. Tickets are available for $8 for children $12 for Students and Senior Citizens and $14 for adults, and are available through the CUTC website.