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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 music and 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, Frank Sinatra as Nathan, and Vivian Blaine as Adelaide.

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 as he takes in a straight up antagonistic position.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: It takes about a day for upright religious missionary Sarah to fall for Sky. Adelaide has the same problem with Nathan, even after he's broken her heart multiple times.
  • 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's lines are full of Yiddishisms like "nu?" and "no-goodnik".
  • 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 Wannabe: Big Jule is the closest thing the show has to one, as he keeps the crap game going for over twenty four hours in order to cheat his way into stealing everybody's money. However, he can only take their money by cheating, as he's actually a terrible gambler who gets cleaned out. And the only reason he can even cheat anyone is because of the physical threat he poses. When Sky arrives, he makes short work of Big Jule, punching him out and disarming him, at which point he completely exits the antagonist position, and gets strung along into helping Sky and Sarah.
  • 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. To be fair though, while Sky doesn't warn her about the alcohol, he's shown resisting her drunken advances and doesn't try any funny business with Sarah until she's sober and fully consenting.
  • 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.
  • Church Lady: Sarah is beautiful and pious, struggling to keep her branch of the mission afloat in a 1950s New York City full of unrepentant gamblers (which was not only seen as immoral, but illegal at the time). While she does learn to loosen up a bit around the charming gangster Sky Masterson, she manages to get Sky to stop gambling and join the mission by the time they get married at the end.
  • Commitment Issues: Nathan has been engaged to Adelaide for over a decade.
  • Confirmed Bachelor: Nicely Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet establish themselves as examples by singing an entire song about how other guys are victims of dolls.
  • Costume Porn: The beloved nineties Broadway revival famously had the entire cast in bright, vivid colors straight out of a cartoon. The result was the most eye catching production the show's yet seen.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Sky Masterson loves betting enormous amounts of money on trivial matters such as "which lump of sugar will a fly sit on, or how far can you kick a piece of cheesecake", which he seems to always win.
  • Crowd Song: "Luck be a Lady" and "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat". The final reprise of "Guys and Dolls" brings the entire cast on stage in most productions as well.
  • Dark Reprise: While the first instance of "Adelaide's Lament" is sad in it's own right, it's still a comedic number that's performed in a way to bring down the the house. The reprise strips that element and ramps up the sadness big time.
  • 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, though we're told that "the heat is on," suggesting that Brannigan is under pressure from above to actually crack down on gambling.
  • The Dragon: Harry the Horse brings Big Jule to the crap game and stands by all of his blatant cheating.
  • Drunken Song: "If I Were A Bell". Sky has gotten Sarah drunk on dulce de leche and now she can't stop singing about how happy she is.
  • Embarrassing First Name: If your first name was Obadiah you'd call yourself "Sky" too.
  • Ensemble Cast: Somewhat. There are clear leads and supporting players, but what makes it count is that there's no true main character among the leads, with Sky, Sarah, Nathan, and Adelaide all being pretty equal in that regard.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Nathan may not have even met Adelaide's mother, but he morally objects to her lying about them being married and having five kids. Noticeably he brings this up before making it clear how he's bothered about the letter's effect on him.
    • Sky's fine letting Sarah get plastered in Havana, but he refuses to get intimate while she's like that.
  • The Family for the Whole Family:
    • They sure are a nice and goofy group of people breaking the law aren't they? Worth noting, of the main characters, Sky, Nathan, Nicely, and Benny are never implied to do anything more immoral than gambling, with the exception of Detroit paying off a cop to turn a blind eye to the game.
    • Big Jule and Harry however clearly have criminal activities that extend beyond gambling, making them the straightest example of this trope in the cast.
  • Family-Friendly Stripper: The performers in the Hot Box. Word of God says it's pretty much a toned-down strip club.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Big Jule may put up a friendly front during the game, but he also makes it clear that he's going to rob everyone through cheating and has no problem killing anyone who opposes.
  • Fixing the Game: Big Jule's dice have had the spots removed. But he remembers "where they formerly were" and is happy to tell you what he rolled.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Sarah and Sky get married after knowing each other for about 48 hours. Subverted with Nathan and Adelaide who have been engaged for fourteen years.
  • Given Name Reveal: Sky Masterson reveals his real name (Obadiah) to Sarah Brown, then she reveals it to everyone else just before the finale.
  • Gospel Revival Number: "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat," sung, appropriately enough, at a prayer meeting.
  • Hazy-Feel Turn:
    • Big Jule and Harry the Horse are roped into helping Sky and Sarah after they're removed as threats. Still, they only do so because they lost a bet and while neither does anything antagonistic again afterwards, there's no sign of them changing their ways despite this.
    • Lieutenant Brannigan is heavily implied to have previously been on Nathan's payroll before the events of the show where he acts as a Hero Antagonist. It's never made clear what caused his falling out with Nathan, whether it was due to any actual sense of morality, or just other factors which have now caused him to try to bring Detroit down.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The missionaries are trying to pull these to the general public to no avail. Even in the end when Sky has brought the gamblers to their mission, they clearly have no interest in actually commuting to the cause, though that doesn't stop Nicely from singing a Showstopper about doing so. We do get more genuine examples in Sky and Nathan, as Sarah and Adelaide decide to enforce this trope after marrying. We get to see these in the final scene.
    • Sky has officially joined the missionaries and if his speech about the dangers of gambling are any indication, it seems being with Sarah means he no longer feels such an urge. He does make a small joke about betting, but it's a rather innocent one, so it seems like he should be out of trouble.
    • Nathan now owns a newsstand, making legitimate cash, and is finally getting married to Adelaide. While his cold that day implies his transition won't be without hitch, the fact that he's cleaned up his act even before his and Adelaide's marriage implies that he's on the right track and they should be happy.
    • Nicely Nicely Johnson even joins the missionaries and is implied to have a reciprocated crush on one of the women. She catches the bouquet that Adelaide throws at her wedding.
  • Hero Antagonist: Brannigan is determined to take down the gamblers, and he's not exactly wrong to do so. However, the audience is unlikely to root for him given the fact that our main characters' crimes extend no farther than gambling, and Brannigan is implied to be a Dirty Cop, at least previously.
  • Hypochondria: Nathan Detroit's fiancee Adelaide is a hypochondriac because of their prolonged engagement, 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, and Adelaide is clearly making great process even before he wedding is done. However, some productions cut this number for Values Dissonance reasons.
  • 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." It seems to serve no purpose other than to give Adelaide another song.
  • 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.
  • Lady Luck: "Luck be a Lady" is an appeal to a personification of luck.
  • 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. Not to mention the fact that he's able to win over a doll who was seemingly the perfect choice to not fall for him implies he knows his way around ladies.
  • Loveable Rogue: Both Sky and Nathan. Sure, they're gamblers that run illegal crap games, but they're very charming. Also goes for the latter's sidekicks Nicely and Benny.
  • 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, Sarah simply replies that she expected it: "How else would a girl get to meet a gambler?"
  • Mobile Kiosk: The opening scene of the movie has a pitchman and his female accomplice whose pitch is a box with fixed legs.
  • Movie Bonus Song: Loesser wrote three new songs for the film: "Pet Me Poppa" (to replace "A Bushel and a Peck"), "A Woman in Love" (to replace "I've Never Been In Love Before") and "Adelaide" (to give Nathan a solo).
  • 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.
  • No Name Given:
    • Of the four leads, Adelaide is the only one whose full name we never hear. Of course, given the finale is at her wedding, it's clearly about to become, or depending on if the production stages the wedding during the music break, does become Adelaide Detroit. The fact that Adelaide and other character don't go around mentioning her last name makes sense, given she likely doesn't want to be reminded of how long she's waiting to get married.
    • Additionally, due to being Only Known by Their Nickname, we don't know the full names of several gamblers. Lt. Brannigan never has his first name stated either.
  • 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. 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."
  • Race Lift:
    • At least two major productions have featured all-black casts: the 1976 Broadway revival, and the 2017 Royal Exchange Theatre production in Manchester, UK, which reset the action in 1930s Harlem.
    • The 2018 production at Houston's Theatre Under the Stars used East Harlem as its setting and featured a mostly Latinx cast.
  • 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 in the movie 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 while holding them all.
  • Shout-Out: Many productions of the play have Lt. Brannigan wear a bright yellow raincoat and hat.
  • 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 Film of the Play, 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: 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.
  • Smack on the Back: After his fellow gangsters sing "For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" to Nathan Detroit, Big Julie slaps Nathan on the back so hard that he staggers forward.
  • 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!
  • 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.
  • Wedding Finale:
    • At the end of the stage show, Sky Masterson and Sarah Brown have just been married and Nathan Detroit is about to marry Miss Adelaide.
    • At the end of the movie, Sky Masterson marries Sarah Brown and Nathan Detroit marries Miss Adelaide in a double wedding.
  • Westminster Chimes: The play-out of "If I Were A Bell".
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Rusty appears alongside Nicely and Benny at the beginning, but after that moment, he departs and his role in the show is over. Granted, it's extremely easy to just have him appear in the ensemble of gamblers afterwards, but his relevance only extends to singing the third part of "Fugue of Tinhorns".
  • 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