Do not be alarmed patrons, but for your information, the next Omaha Community Playhouse musical to open contains music by a man who never studied music formally.
Before you begin giving away your ticket subscriptions, take note that although Frank Loesser, musical composer of Guys and Dolls, refused to take official music lessons during his younger years, he still managed to write a score that Jim Boggess, music director of Guys and Dolls, calls, “close to perfect.”
“Loesser was a musical comedy genius,” Boggess said. “There isn’t an unnecessary word or song in the show. That’s why it’s so good. It tells the truth about these people. Good theatre and good songs tell the truth.”
As a child, Loesser grew up in a musical environment. His father was a German-born classical piano teacher and his older brother was a renowned concert pianist, musicologist and music critic. Loesser, on the other hand, was the rebel in the family.
He had no interest in studying classical music but rather was drawn to pop styles, much to his father’s dismay. He taught himself to play the harmonica in his early years and later the piano, and he started his career writing lyrics for both film and the stage. Eventually trying his hand at composing music, he opened his first smash hit on Broadway in 1948 called Where’s Charley? and followed that show with Guys and Dolls in 1950, which earned a Tony Award for Best Musical.
Boggess notes that although Loesser attempted to avoid classical idioms, hints of classical style are still detected in his works.
“It is interesting that in Guys and Dolls, and most particularly, in his musical, Most Happy Fella, he many times uses the recitative/aria form that is most closely identified with opera,” Boggess said.
A few OCP Guys and Dolls cast members have admitted they, like Loesser, have been musical rebels at some point in their lives, even though classical styles unavoidably have influenced them.
Angela Jenson Frey, who is playing Sarah Brown, noted that during her college years at Nebraska Wesleyan University, she did not want to follow the musical paths of the rest in her department. She considered herself to be the girl with the “crazy, wacky musical theatre background.”
“When I was there, Wesleyan was known as being very classical/opera-oriented, and the music and theatre departments did not mix,” Frey said. “Here, everyone was singing these art songs and opera arias in their lessons, and all I wanted to do was sing some show tunes! Wesleyan is much different now, of course . . .”
Jonathan Hickerson, who plays Nathan Detroit, also admitted that like Loesser during his early years, he was not keen about formal music lessons.
“I actually started taking piano lessons when I was eleven, but I only managed to make it through about three years of formal training,” Hickerson said. “Even though I stopped taking piano lessons, I never stopped playing or singing. I pretty much taught myself to play piano after that point.”
Hickerson believes his greatest similarity with Loesser is that their appreciation for music is evident in their work, despite their dislike for traditional music studies.
“I may not play the notes in the same way that someone with formal training would, but I have been able to accompany singers, write songs and create other compositions over the years,” he said. “[Loesser’s and my] love of music and our individual perspectives tend to come through regardless of our dedication to, or experience with the classical forms.”
Frey and Hickerson both agree Guys and Dolls is a unique piece of musical theatre. They believe it contains all of the elements necessary to be considered one of the greatest masterworks of musical theatre.
“What makes a great musical stand the test of time after so many years is a marriage of wonderful, memorable music and a great script,” Frey said.
Frey believes the stories of Damon Runyon, which Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows used for the book of Guys and Dolls blend beautifully with Loesser’s score, and Hickerson added that the big, bold characters connect the widely appreciated themes of love and the games we play on the path to it.
“THAT is what makes a masterpiece of musical theatre — the whole package,” Frey said.
Don’t miss Guys and Dolls in the Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre, May 27-June 26, Wednesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 for adults and $24 for students. For groups of 15 or more, adult tickets are $29 and student tickets are $18. To purchase tickets or for more information, call (402) 553-0800, visit the Box Office or click here.
Article by Maria Becvar