New York City’s signature brilliance derives from its being ever a city of immigrants, its streets alive with a thousand different accents from all over the world. But if we had to distill its voice down to a single one, that would undoubtedly be Runyonese: the politely profane dialect assigned to the streetwise characters in the glitzy/shady world of the Manhattan demimonde of the 1920s and ’30s in the short stories of Damon Runyon. The sound, the diction, the mode of expression impressed themselves indelibly on the public consciousness of his time and never truly faded. If someone acting in a film or TV show made outside the US wants to put on a “New York accent” (as if there were only one), the odds are great that its sound originated in Runyon’s renditions.
Even if you’ve never read a Damon Runyon story, you know their flavor well. They were made into many a radio show and movie (including Little Miss Marker, The Lemon Drop Kid, Pocketful of Miracles, A Slight Case of Murder and The Big Street) and their characters replicated in Looney Tunes fare that became Saturday-morning staples in the early days of TV. Most purely and enduringly of all, they were captured in the Frank Loesser stage musical Guys and Dolls, whose book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows merged the plots of two Runyon stories: “The Idyll of Miss Sarah Brown” and “Blood Pressure.”
When Guys and Dolls first opened on Broadway in 1950, it charmed the crowds and the critics, snagged five Tonys and was supposed to get the 1951 Pulitzer for Best Drama (though the latter was quashed due to Burrows being blacklisted). It went on to become a perennial classic, and for good reason. All these decades later, the dialogue remains as fresh and funny and snappy as ever, the songs as sprightly and singable: “Fugue for Tinhorns,” “A Bushel and a Peck,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” “If I Were a Bell,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” the title tune – you know them, even if you don’t realize that you do.
Due for a revisit? Need to hang out for a couple of hours with some good-hearted gamblers, brassy showgirls and naïve street missionaries? Come see the County Players’ new production of Guys and Dolls, currently running at the Falls Theatre in Wappingers Falls. And if you know any “theater kids” who think that musicals started with Andrew Lloyd Webber, bring them along. The director is the estimable Christine Crawfis; it stars Brian Apfel as Sky Masterson, Amy Schaffer as Sarah Brown, Rick Meyer as Nathan Detroit and Michele George as Miss Adelaide.
The show runs for one more weekend, with performances beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, May 18 and 19 and a 2 p.m. Sunday matinée on the 19th. Tickets cost $25 general admission, $20 for seniors (60+), military and children under age 12. To purchase, call (845) 298-1491 or visit https://bit.ly/2wv2rE7. Find more info at http://countyplayers.org. The County Players Falls Theatre is located at 2681 West Main Street in Wappingers Falls.