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Theatre: Guys and Dolls

"A guy without a doll? Well, if a guy does not have a doll, who would holler on him? A doll is a necessity!"
Nathan Detroit

Guys and Dolls is a 1950 musical comedy with lyrics by by Frank Loesser and a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. It was based heavily on two short stories by Damon Runyon, "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" and "Blood Pressure", with smaller elements from his other stories. The original Broadway production was nominated for five Tony awards, winning all of them, including Best Musical and Best Actor in a Musical (Robert Alda as Sky Masterson).

The plot centers on Sky Masterson, a chronic high-rolling gambler, and Sarah Brown, a mission worker in New York City. When fellow gambler Nathan Detroit finds himself in need of $1,000, Nathan bets Sky he cannot get Sarah to go to Havana with him. Hilarity Ensues. Other players include Adelaide, Nathan's long-suffering long-time fiancee, Sarah's uncle Arvide, and an ensemble of gamblers hanging around Nathan including Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Benny Southstreet, and Harry the Horse.

Most famous song is "Luck Be a Lady", with "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" in a close second.

Adapted into a movie in 1955, with Marlon Brando as Sky, and Frank Sinatra as Nathan.

Includes examples of:

  • Absurdly High-Stakes Game: Not only does "Sky" Masterson get his name from this, there's also his high-stakes roll at the craps game - $1,000 for every man, against their souls (and attendance at the Save-a-Soul mission).
  • Absurdly Spacious Sewer: Enough for a big ol' dance number during the final crap game - it's absurdly spacious even by the standards of absurdly spacious sewers...
  • All Musicals Are Adaptations: In this case an adaptation of short stories by Damon Runyon, most importantly, "The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown" and "Blood Pressure", although characters are pulled from several others, as well.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Nathan & Adelaide
  • Aren't You Going to Ravish Me?: A drunk Sarah keeps coming on to Sky, but he decides to take her back to New York because he doesn't want to "win with loaded dice".
  • The Bet: Sky bets Nathan that he can take "any doll you pick" to Havana for the weekend. Nathan picks Sarah, a missionary from the Save-A-Soul Mission (an expy of the Salvation Army).
  • Beta Couple: In terms of general role, Nathan and Adelaide; but both in stage time and importance to the story, they're pretty much equal. The emotional climax ("Marry the Man Today") is, after all, about both couples, and the end of the show only comes when Nathan and Adelaide are actually married.
  • Bikini Bar: The Hot Box. Word of God says it's pretty much a toned-down strip club.
  • But Liquor Is Quicker: Mentioned in a song.
  • Chorus Girls: The Hot Box girls
  • Commitment Issues: Nathan has been engaged to Adelaide for over a decade.
  • Cut Song: "Traveling Light"
  • Deadly Road Trip: Not so much deadly as pickpocketing unwary tourists.
  • Deconfirmed Bachelor: Sky Masterson.
    Sky: "I suppose one of these days you'll be getting married."
    Nathan: "We all gotta go sometime."
    Sky: " But, Nathan, we can fight it. The companionship of a doll is pleasant even for a period running into months. But for a close relationship that can last through our life, no doll can take the place of aces back to back."
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Sky tries to do this with Sarah.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: One of the Trope Codifiers.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Nathan crosses it in the sewer, as to run this crap game, he's been forced to promise to elope, and ends up broke in a sewer for his troubles.
  • Dialogue Reversal: "Chemistry?" "Yeah, chemistry."
  • Dirty Cop: Brannigan is implied to have been in Nathan's pocket prior to the events of the show - we can assume from Nathan's line in "The Oldest Established" that Brannigan allowed Detroit to use the back of the police station to run the game. What exactly changed this is a mystery.
  • Drunken Song: "If I Were A Bell".
  • Embarrassing First Name: If my first name was Obadiah? I'd call myself "Sky" too.
  • Fixing The Game: Big Jule's dice have had the spots removed. But he remembers where they were and is happy to tell you what he rolled.
  • Hypochondria: Nathan Detroit's fiancee Adelaide is a hypochondriac, as shown in the song "Adelaide's Lament."
  • I Can Change My Beloved: "Marry the Man Today" ("and change his ways tomorrow!") is all about this, and indeed it seems to work out well enough for Sarah.
  • Incessant Chorus: "Follow the Fold".
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Nathan actually did have to go to a prayer meeting, but Adelaide still doesn't believe him.
  • Inspector Javert: Lt. Brannigan.
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: "Take Back Your Mink" and "Fugue For Tinhorns."
  • Kiss-Kiss-Slap: After some verbal sparring, Sarah Brown looks like she'll be won over by Sky randomly making out with her, but then she hits him. Hard. She's okay with kissing him later, though.
  • Ladykiller in Love: Possibly Sky with Sarah.
  • Loveable Rogue: Both Sky and Nathan fit.
  • The Magic Crap Shoot Calculation
  • Milholland Relationship Moment: When Sky confesses about The Bet.
  • Mobile Kiosk: The opening scene has a pitchman and his female accomplice whose pitch is a box with fixed legs.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Many of the gamblers, including Sky.
  • Opening Ballet
  • Opinion Changing Dream: During the scene when the gamblers are attending the revival at the Save-A-Soul mission because Sky won a bet, Nicely-Nicely Johnson recounts a dream he had that turned him from his wild gambling ways, "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat". (Clip from the 2011 Broadway revival is here; the film version (performed by Stubby Kaye) is here.) The trope is subverted, in that Nicely didn't change his ways and may not (probably didn't, in fact) even have such a dream at all.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: "It's the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York."
  • Pretty in Mink: The song "Take Back Your Mink"
  • Professional Gambler: Most of the male characters.
  • Reading the Stage Directions Out Loud: Not a stage direction but Adelaide manages something similar when singing from a medical journal in "Adelaide's Lament":
    (spoken) It says here:
    The female remaining single,
    Just in the legal sense,
    Shows a neurotic tendency see Note.
    (spoken)Tendency see note?
    Oh, "see note!"
  • Rewritten Pop Version: A gambling-free version of "Fugue For Tinhorns" called "Three-Cornered Tune"
  • Schmuck Bait: illustrated in the advice Sky Masterson got from his father;
    "One of these days in your travels, a guy is going to come to you and show you a nice, brand new deck of cards on which the seal has not yet been broken. This man is going to offer to bet you that he can make the jack of spades jump out of that deck and squirt cider in your ear. Now son, you do not take this bet, for as sure as you stand there, you are going to wind up with an earful of cider."
    • Later, when Nathan cons him into betting that he could take Sister Sarah to Havana, Sky looks up and says, "Daddy, I got cider in my ear."
  • Second Face Smoke: During the title song, there's a sight gag where a doll who's been shopping does this to her hapless guy who carries all her packages and lights her cigarette.
  • Sidekick Song: "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat" for Nicely-Nicely.
    • "More I Cannot Wish You" for Arvide.
    • And the title song for Nicely-Nicely (again) and Benny. Nathan took it over for The Movie version, because...well, if you have Frank Sinatra in a part that only has two major songs, wouldn't you shoehorn him into everything else you possibly can?
  • Those Two Guys: Nicely and Benny.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Harry the Horse and Big Jule.
  • Tsundere: Sarah is a Type B.
  • Unsuspectingly Soused: Sarah after drinking Dulce de Leche.
  • Verbal Tic Name: Nicely-Nicely Johnson.
  • Westminster Chimes: The play-out of "If I Were A Bell".


Julius CaesarCreator/Joseph L MankiewiczThe Quiet American
The Far CountryFilms of the 1950sIt Came From Beneath The Sea
Grease 2The MusicalGypsy
Hank WilliamsNational Recording RegistryLive At The Apollo

alternative title(s): Guys And Dolls
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