Forty youngsters, ages 8 to 17, will bring to life the mythical world of Damon Runyon’s New York City when they perform Guys and Dolls. Besides acting, these amateur thespians will get a healthy dose of history.
Guys and Dolls, which made its Broadway debut in 1950 and was then performed more than 1,000 times, is set in a restless city full of hustlers, dancers, drunks, cops and missionaries, all of them trying to survive in the city that never sleeps. Sergeant Sarah Brown, leader of the Save-a-Soul Mission, tries desperately to save the soul of anybody who will listen. Nathan Detroit, a small-time swindler, tries to take advantage of a rash of fat cats in the city. Sky Masterson is a high roller on his way to Havana but accidentally makes a pit stop in love. All these characters, dressed in fedoras and bow ties, are ghosts of a bygone area, which has made producing the play fun for everybody at Kids Coop Theatre.
“It has been very fun for the kids,” said Nancy DeLew, Kids Coop Theatre volunteer board member. “Many of them don’t know the meaning of certain lines they say, so we have to explain to them the different terms. Sometimes we have to look it up too.”
An example of one of the words even the adults didn’t know is “tinhorn,” which means someone, especially a gambler, who pretends to be a big shot but actually has little money or influence.
DeLew said one of the unique features of Kids Coop Theatre is that they don’t do a casting call and so those who participate have a wide range of skills. Some have no stage experience, while many of the older teens have been performing in their school plays for years. This creates an environment where the grown-ups aren’t the only ones mentoring. DeLew said the older kids often take younger or new actors under their wings and show them the ropes.
“My favorite thing,” said DeLew, who got involved with Kids Coop Theatre 10 years ago when her kids participated, “is that we really function like a family.”
She said the theater always secures a great directing team and this production is no different. Jude Bascom is the director, Yvonne Aubert is music director, and choreography is led by Arielle Kaplan. They teach the kids elements of theater like blocking, which is the process of planning where, when and how actors will move about the stage during a performance.
“They [the directing team] also know that the social aspect, being able to get together, is a big piece of it,” DeLew said.
DeLew said this range of talent also means everyone succeeds in his own way. She said Guys and Dolls is one of the most challenging performances they’ve ever undertaken because of the choreography and songs. She said some of the students with experience are nailing the complex dance numbers perfectly, while others are working their tails off to improve. This dedication is really all any director could ask for.
Since the music plays such a major role, Kids Coop Theatre is using its largest pit, which will include 10 instruments primarily played by high school and college-aged kids. The music, combined with the many classic lines of wannabe gangsters, makes the play a real treat for the whole family, according to DeLew.
“It is a family-friendly show, and if you listen to the lines you’ll be sure to laugh,” DeLew said.