‘Guys & Dolls’ closes Four Seasons’ 10th year

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

Musical theater becomes more prevalent in the arts scene in every passing year, with even the most steadfastly disinclined companies adopting musicals as a component to their repertoire. At the head of the trend in Madison is Four Seasons Theatre. For 10 years, the company has played a major role in building up the genre in the capital, and they’ll wrap up a decade with one of the most iconic musicals of all: Guys and Dolls.

Since Four Seasons formed in 2005, the local theater scene has changed significantly, according to Sarah Marty. Marty is Four Seasons’ producing artistic director, as well as the general manager for Forward Theater, director for the Madison Early Music Festival and a faculty affiliate of the UW-Madison Arts Institute leading theater, arts management and entrepreneurship courses.

“When Four Seasons Theatre was founded in 2005, area theater companies might produce one musical every year or two,” Marty says. “Now the competition for performers, musicians and production team members is much tighter as other organizations have followed our lead and have added much more musical theater to their seasons.” 

Utilizing the Union Theater, the Isthmus Playhouse and Overture Center (among other venues), Four Seasons has racked up an impressive performance history. From West Side Story (2007) and South Pacific (2010) to Rent (2011) and Les Miserables (2013), the troupe boasts an ambitious repertoire that shows no signs of slowing down.

“Since 2006, we have collaborated with the Wisconsin Union Theater on an annual large scale summer production,” Marty notes. “That culminated in 2014 as part of the theater’s reopening as Shannon Hall after a two-year renovation with a production of Kiss Me, Kate in honor of its 75th season.”

The Memorial Union Theater opened in 1939. Its inaugural production of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, the source material on which Kate is based, featured Broadway luminaries (and Wisconsin summer residents) Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne.

Four Seasons also supports a community outreach program, bringing scalable versions of its musical programs to a variety of audiences that would not otherwise have access to live musical theater. The actors and singers have performed at retirement communities, assisted living facilities, adult day centers, senior centers, schools and libraries.

For Guys and Dolls, director Miranda Hawk has pulled together a talented cast. In addition to Abby and Jace Nichols, a real-life married couple playing romantic leads Sarah Brown and Sky Masterson, the cast includes Jessica Jane Witham (Adelaide), Michael Herold (Nathan Detroit) and Robert Goderich (Nicely-Nicely Johnson.) A 25-piece orchestra will accompany each performance, Marty says.

The 1950 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, Guys and Dolls is the epitome of classic American musical theater, Marty says. With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, the show is an adaptation of two Damon Runyon short stories about Prohibition-era New Yorkers. 

The popularity of the show has endured, from Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1955 film adaptation with Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons, Frank Sinatra and Vivian Blaine, to the numerous West End and Broadway revivals and national tours. 

A slew of familiar songs came out of the musical, including “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” and “If I Were a Bell.” The biggest number, “Luck Be A Lady,” sung by Brando in the film version, went on to become one of Sinatra’s signature concert tunes.

Loesser’s style as a composer, Marty notes, perfectly suited the story, which involved pretty criminals and professional gamblers in 1940s New York and the efforts of the Save-a-Soul Mission to convert the characters from their nefarious ways.

“Frank Loesser’s music and lyrics pulled from the big band style arrangements,” Marty explains. “The numbers lent themselves to the Great American Songbook, with tunes picked up and made popular by solo singers and big bands alike.”

Chances are it won’t take any luck, a lady or otherwise, to attract audiences to Four Seasons’ season closer later this month.

ON STAGE 

Four Seasons Theatre’s production of Guys and Dolls runs Aug. 21-23 in Shannon Hall of the Wisconsin Union Theatre in the UW Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St., on the UW campus. For tickets, call 608-265-2787. For more information, visit fourseasonstheatre.com.

Four Seasons’ New Season

While Four Seasons’ 2014–15 season is wrapping up later than the average company, they won’t be waiting long to jump into 2015–16. Before getting to fully staged productions, the fall will feature the first installments of two of Four Seasons’ smaller series. Musical Theatre Open Mic Night and Cabaret @ the Circle series. 

The Musical Theatre Open Mic Nights are free events, allowing Broadway enthusiasts to belt out their favorite tunes with piano accompaniment. Open mic nights are scheduled for Oct. 1 and Jan. 28 at the Wisconsin Memorial Union’s Frederic March Play Circle, 800 Langdon St.

Cabaret @ the Circle features Four Seasons’ own vocalists performing in an intimate cabaret style at The Play Circle. Themes are yet to be announced for this year’s events on Nov. 12 and on April 21.

Four Seasons’ first fully staged musical will be The Light in the Piazza. The bilingual musical about a girl who falls in love while she and her mother are summering in Italy will make its Madison premiere Dec. 4-13 at the Overture Center, 201 State St.

In between musicals, the company will host Campus Music Theatre Idol, a competition between local singers with audience members choosing the winner. The contest, co-produced with Madison’s Musicals to Remember, is on Feb. 18 at The Play Circle.

The season concludes with Spamalot, the Monty Python musical comedy that parodies the Arthurian Legend, much like its film predecessor Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The show runs Aug. 5-7 at the Overture Center.