When the curtain opens on the Palace Theatre’s Guys and Dolls on Nov. 4, the show will represent more than just a quirky take on a classic musical. For the show’s lead it’s a long-awaited homecoming, and for its artistic director Guys and Dolls is a testament to how far the Palace has come.
A 2002 graduate of Manchester High School West, Lindsey Clayton grew up on the Palace stage. Her first dance recital was held there, along with countless performances she made throughout high school. Upon graduation, Clayton decided it was time to see how high she could fly, so she took her chances in New York City. Turns out, she was born to soar. While taking college classes, Clayton was cast in the national tour of Grease, which also starred Chubby Checker. At 18, Clayton was the youngest performer on tour and spent more than a year crisscrossing the United States. Most recently she toured with Hairspray, which brought her to China, Japan and Canada and again across America. On tour she was even promoted to associate choreographer.
But throughout her travels she always dreamed of coming home to her native Manchester. When she finally got her chance, what she found was better than she imagined.
“What Carl [Rajotte, Palace artistic director] has done is amazing,” Clayton said. “The quality of shows that are being performed in Manchester is so thrilling.”
Clayton will perform the role of Miss Adelaide in the Palace’s rendition of Guys and Dolls. It is a role she knows very well, as she recently understudied for it in New York. Clayton said the role is demanding and requires high levels of dancing, singing and acting skills. She said she is working hard so that the audience feels for the character.
“I have to bring a lot of energy,” Clayton said. “And I have to speak in a high and nasally voice.”
Clayton said her cast mates are amazing. At the time of the interview, rehearsals had just begun and they were already doing a complete run-through of Act One. Much of that success and dedication can be attributed to Rajotte, who has a special feeling for Guys and Dolls.
In fact, Rajotte believes he was hired by the Palace after guest directing a production of the show years ago. He said he recently watched an archival DVD of that show and couldn’t believe how far the theater has come in production value and theatrical performances.
“It is night and day,” Rajotte said.
While Guys and Dolls will be the Palace’s classic show for the season, it won’t be a conventional performance. Rajotte said they are pulling out all of the stops — the show will be polished and slick and fast-moving. He said the rhythm of comedy has changed since the 1950s and he will be updating that rhythm by delivering quicker jokes and more subtle punch lines. Traditionally the first act is an hour and a half, but Rajotte intends to get it down to an hour. He was inspired by the 1992 Broadway revival of Guys and Dolls.
The feel of the show will be different too. Rajotte wanted to create a quirky production that was set in his own time and city. He is naming the city Runyon Land, in honor of Damon Runyon, whose two short stories inspired Guys and Dolls. Rajotte said he always has ideas in his head but couldn’t seem to get them on paper; that is why he always wanted to collaborate with an artist. He gets his chance in this show. He will be working with Christy Doherty, who has created original renderings for the set. Rajotte knows Doherty well as she’s been in several Palace productions as a dancer, but Rajotte never knew her talent as an artist. Finally, after seeing her artwork displayed in a local business, he put two and two together and asked her to help him with this show. She has created an abstract world full of impressionism. The newsstands are angled and the buildings roll on and off. It is like a cartoon, according to Rajotte. And the costumes match. They are extremely bright.
Despite the added flair, Rajotte said the show stays true to the original story and will contain all the beloved music. He said there are plenty of songs, like “A Bushel and a Peck,” that people know but often forget come from Guys and Dolls.
With such a fantastical world yet such classic songs, Rajotte needed a cast to match. Kylie McDonald, who starred in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, is back and plays the role of Sarah Brown. And of course there is Clayton, who was also chosen to be show captain, which is essentially an assistant to Rajotte. Clayton will lead some rehearsals and have to do re-blocking on the fly backstage if an actor gets injured. But she is up to the challenge and hopes her success may motivate the next Lindsey Clayton who may be sitting in the audience.
“When I was young I looked up to those people on stage,” Clayton said. “I’ve been very fortunate that my career has taken off and hopefully I can inspire someone else.”