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Theatre / Guys and Dolls

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"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 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.


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

Adapted into a movie by Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1955, with Marlon Brando as Sky, Jean Simmons as Sister Sarah, and Frank Sinatra as Nathan.

Includes examples of:

  • Above the Influence: 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".
  • 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 craps game - it's absurdly spacious even by the standards of absurdly spacious sewers...
  • Affably Evil: Harry the Horse is a generally affable and pleasant fellow in spite of being a crook and a gambler, but when with Big Jule, he can get a little sinister, especially when he backs up Big Jule's cheating. This is pretty much true of all the gamblers except for Big Jules, but Harry the Horse is more notable.
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  • 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.
  • Armor-Piercing Slap: After making the bet, Sky comes to the mission to talk to Sarah, flirts with her, and even kisses her (possibly only on the hand, depending on the production). Sarah sashays over to him humming a love song as though she's softened and then hauls off and slaps him so hard he loses his hat.
  • 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.
  • Big Bad: Downplayed. While Harry the Horse isn't the one causing the whole conflict of the film, he was the one who invited Big Jule to the crap game, who is notorious for cheating in crap games. Therefore he had a hand in delaying Nathan in eloping with Adelaide, and cleaning him out of his money through Big Jule's cheating.
  • But Liquor Is Quicker: Sky plies Sarah with a milk cocktail made with Bacardi, which he tells her is a native flavouring that contains enough alcohol to act as a preservative. In the film version, he tries to cut her off once she's had several drinks, and is seen trying to sober her up with coffee while she keeps insisting on drinking more milk.
  • Chairman of the Brawl: In the film version, both Sky and Sarah use chairs as weapons during the brawl in the cafe in Havana.
  • Chorus Girls: The Hot Box girls. They serve as backup dancers in most of Adelaide's numbers and only one of them has any lines at all.
  • Commitment Issues: Nathan has been engaged to Adelaide for over a decade.
  • Crowd Song: "Luck be a Lady" and "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat". The final reprise of "Guys and Dolls" brings everyone on stage in most productions as well.
  • Deadly Road Trip: Not so much deadly as pickpocketing unwary tourists.
  • Deconfirmed Bachelor:
    • Sky Masterson advises Nathan against marriage...before falling for Sarah.
    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.
    • Nathan himself, who despite being engaged to Adelaide has managed to put off the wedding for fourteen years. Despite this, he seems to take it for granted that they'll get married eventually, and Benny Southstreet comments that it's a shame he "had to go and fall in love with his own fiancée."
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Sky is able to get the prim, proper Sarah to lighten up and be more assertive.
  • Delusions of Eloquence: One of the Trope Codifiers, as all of the gamblers talk this way.
    Nathan: [reading Big Jule's marker] "I.O.U. one thousand, signed 'X.'" How is you can write "one thousand" but cannot write your signature?
    Big Jule: I was good in arithmetic, but I stunk in English.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Nathan crosses it in the sewer, as to run this craps 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". Sky has gotten Sarah drunk on dulche de leche and now she can't stop singing about how happy she is.
  • Embarrassing First Name: If my first name was Obadiah? I'd call myself "Sky" too.
  • Family-Friendly Stripper: The performers in the Hot Box. Word of God says it's pretty much a toned-down strip club.
  • 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.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: Aside from the fact that the Hotbox is a strip club in all but name, one very oblique line makes it clear that Sarah believes that The Bet involved Sky sleeping with her.
  • 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 Adelaide and Sarah discussing the possibility of changing their love interests after marriage, rather than waiting for them to clean up before getting married. Indeed, it seems to work out well enough for Sarah.
  • Incessant Chorus: "Follow the Fold" appears many times as the theme for the Save-a-Soul Mission.
  • Illegal Gambling Den: "The oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York" is one of these, constantly having to find new venues because the authorities keep shutting them down.
  • I Need to Go Iron My Dog: Played for Dramatic Irony. When Adelaide begs Nathan to elope with her that moment, he gets interrupted by two of his fellow gamblers reminding him about his payoff on Sky's bet. Nathan actually does have to go to a prayer meeting, but Adelaide doesn't believe him, given all the times he's misled her.
  • Ironic Name: In many theater versions, "Big Jule" is played by the smallest person on the cast, often giving a Big Guy, Little Guy vibe with Harry the Horse. The 2018 Houston production went so far as to cast a lady dwarf as "Big Julie," less than half the height of her sidekick.
  • Irrelevant Act Opener: "Take Back Your Mink" and "Fugue For Tinhorns". The former seems to serve no purpose other than to give Adelaide another song and the latter has no lyrics and is just played in the background during the opening scene, which establishes how busy Runyonland is.
  • 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; we don't see him with any other women over the course of the play, but he implies that he could take any doll to Havana if he wished, and he's supremely confident that he can win Sarah over.
  • Loveable Rogue: Both Sky and Nathan. Sure, they're gamblers that run illegal crap games, but they're very charming.
  • The Magic Poker Equation: Sky Masterson has an entire song, "Luck Be A Lady," trying to invoke this. He rolls one time for a bet that pits $1k for every man in the room against their attendance at the mission's prayer meeting and wins.
    A lady wouldn't make little snake-eyes at me
    When I've bet my life on this roll!
  • Massive Numbered Siblings: Adelaide told her mother that she and Nathan are not only married, but have five children with a sixth on the way. Part of the reason she wants to get married for real is so that they can get started on having children for real.
  • 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.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain!: If it wasn't for Harry the Horse saying that Big Jule can't make a pass to save his soul with Nathan's dice, Sky wouldn't have been able to make good on the deal he made with the Mission about getting in 12 genuine sinners, and then he wouldn't have reconciled with and married Sarah, and Nathan wouldn't have married Adelaide.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Many of the gamblers never give their actual names. Sky starts out going solely by his nickname, but during his romance with Sarah, he tells her his real name, Obadiah.
  • Opening Ballet: "Runyonland."
  • 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". 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. (At least in the original play, in the movie he's being sincere and he's the one who overtly joins the mission instead of Sky.)
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: "It's the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York."
  • Pretty in Mink: The song "Take Back Your Mink" is an inversion. In it, the protagonist tells her suitor to take back the mink he gave her if all he wanted was to get her into bed.
  • Professional Gambler: All of the male characters except for Uncle Arvide and Lt. Brannigan. The word "tinhorn" (another word for a professional gambler) is even referenced in "Fugue for Tinhorns."
  • 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."
  • Right Behind Me: Benny Southstreet and Nicely-Nicely Johnson discuss the fact that a bunch of high-rollers are in town and that Nathan needs to find a spot for his crap game... while Brannigan is within earshot.
    Nicely-Nicely: Lieutenant Brannigan. Mr. Southstreet, it is Lieutenant Brannigan of the New York City Police Department.
  • 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 puts his hand to his ear, withdraws it, and says, "Her! Cider!"
  • 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:
    • Nicely-Nicely leads "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat", which is a song about a made-up dream about a boat ride to Heaven spoiled by his sinful behavior, during the prayer meeting.
    • Arvide, Sarah's uncle, sings "More I Cannot Wish You" when he's encouraging her after her breakup.
    • 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?
  • Slapstick Knows No Gender: The film features a hilarious Bar Brawl in a Havana nightclub, where Sarah sucker-punches a local woman making the moves on Sky and later pulls out a chair.
  • Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist: Lt. Brannigan. No matter how many times he gets close to nailing Nathan Detroit and his buddies on the gambling charges they absolutely deserve, he never does. He also gives Adelaide away at her wedding in the movie!
  • Those Two Guys: Nicely and Benny. They're rarely seen on stage without each other.
  • Those Two Bad Guys: Harry the Horse and Big Jule, the sidekick and major gambler, respectively.
  • Tsundere: Sarah is a virtuous, demure young lady who works as a member of a Salvation Army expy. However, as Sky finds out, she can become ferocious when bothered sufficiently.
  • Unsuspectingly Soused: Sarah after drinking Dulce de Leche.
  • Verbal Tic Name: Nicely-Nicely Johnson.
  • Victoria's Secret Compartment: During the "Runyonland" number in the film version, a pair of well dressed dolls pickpocket a (stolen) pocket watch off Rusty. One of the dolls examines the watch and then conceals it down her cleavage.
  • Westminster Chimes: The play-out of "If I Were A Bell".
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: "Adelaide's Lament" and the reprise have Adelaide singing what she's learned about psychosomatic illnesses. She blames her poor health on her anxiety over failing to get Nathan to marry her.

Alternative Title(s): Guys And Dolls


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