Guys and Dolls was conceived by producers Cy Feuer and Ernest Martin as an adaptation of Damon Runyon's short stories. These stories, written in the 1920s and 1930s, concerned gangsters, gamblers, and other characters of the New York underworld. Runyon was known for the unique dialect he employed in his stories, mixing highly formal language and slang. Frank Loesser, who had spent most of his career as a lyricist for movie musicals, was hired as composer and lyricist. George S. Kaufman was hired as director. When the first version of the show's book, written by Jo Swerling, was deemed unusable, Feuer and Martin asked radio comedy writer Abe Burrows to write a new version of the book.
Loesser had already written much of the score to correspond with the first version of the book. Burrows later recalled, "Frank Loesser's fourteen songs were all great, and the [new book] had to be written so that the story would lead into each of them. Later on, the critics spoke of the show as 'integrated'. The word integration usually means that the composer has written songs that follow the story line gracefully, Well, we accomplished that but we did it in reverse". The character of Miss Adelaide was created specifically to fit Vivian Blaine into the musical, after Loesser decided she was ill-suited to play the conservative Sarah. When Loesser suggested reprising some songs in the second act, Kaufman warned: "If you reprise the songs, we’ll reprise the jokes."
The musical premiered on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre on November 24, 1950. It was directed by George S. Kaufman, with dances and musical numbers by Michael Kidd, scenic and lighting design by Jo Mielziner, costumes by Alvin Colt, and orchestrations by George Bassman and Ted Royal, with vocal arrangements by Herbert Greene. It starred Robert Alda, Sam Levene, Isabel Bigley, and Vivian Blaine. Iva Withers was a replacement as Adelaide. The musical ran for 1.200 performances, winning five 1951 Tony Awards, including the award for Best Musical. Decca Records issued the original cast recording on 78 rpm records, which was later expanded and re-issued on LP, and then transferred to CD in the 1980s.
The West End premiere opened at the London Coliseum on May 28, 1953 and ran for 555 performances. The cast starred Vivian Blaine, Sam Levene, Lizbeth Webb and Jerry Wayne. Lizbeth Webb was the only major principal who was British and was chosen to play the part of Sarah Brown by Frank Loesser. The show has had numerous revivals and tours and has become a popular choice for school and community theatre productions.
New York City Center 1955, 1965 and 1966 revivals
New York City Center mounted short runs of the musical in 1955, 1965 and 1966. A production starring Walter Matthau as Nathan Detroit, Helen Gallagher as Adelaide, Ray Shaw as Sky and Leila Martin as Sarah had 31 performances, running from April 20 to May 1, and May 31 to June 12, 1955.
Another presentation at City Center, with Alan King as Nathan Detroit, Sheila MacRae as Adelaide, Jerry Orbach as Sky and Anita Gillette as Sarah, ran for 15 performances from April 28 to May 9, 1965. A 1966 production, starring Jan Murray as Nathan Detroit, Vivian Blaine reprising her role as Adelaide, Hugh O'Brian as Sky, and Barbara Meister as Sarah, ran for 23 performances, from June 8 to June 26, 1966.
1976 Broadway revival
Libretto and vocal book, Music Theatre International (1978), rented out to actors.An all-black cast staged the first Broadway revival of the show, which opened on July 11, 1976 in previews, officially on July 21, at The Broadway Theatre. It starred Robert Guillaume as Nathan Detroit, Norma Donaldson as Miss Adelaide, James Randolph as Sky and Ernestine Jackson as Sarah Brown. Guillaume and Jackson were nominated for Tony and Drama Desk Awards, and Ken Page as Nicely-Nicely won a Theatre World Award.
This production featured Motown-style musical arrangements by Danny Holgate and Horace Ott, and it was directed and choreographed by Billy Wilson. The entire production was under the supervision of Abe Burrows, and musical direction and choral arrangements were by Howard Roberts.
The show closed on February 13, 1977 after 239 performances and 12 previews. A cast recording was released subsequent to the show's opening.
1982 London revival
Laurence Olivier had wanted to play Nathan Detroit, and began rehearsals for a planned 1971 London revival of Guys and Dolls at his National Theatre Company's Old Vic theatre. However, due to poor health he had to stop, and his revival never saw the light of day.
In 1982, Richard Eyre directed a major revival at London's National Theatre. Eyre called it a "re-thinking" of the musical, and his production featured an award-winning neon-lit set design inspired by Rudi Stern's 1979 book Let There Be Neon, and brassier orchestrations with vintage yet innovative harmonies. The show's choreography by David Toguri included a large-scale tap dance number of the "Guys and Dolls" finale, performed by the principals and entire cast. The revival opened March 9, 1982, and was an overnight sensation, running for nearly four years and breaking all box office records. The original cast featured Bob Hoskins as Nathan Detroit, Julia McKenzie as Adelaide, Ian Charleson as Sky and Julie Covington as Sarah. The production won five Olivier Awards, including for McKenzie and Eyre and for Best Musical. Eyre also won the Evening Standard Award, and Hoskins won the Critics' Circle Theatre Award.
In October 1982, Hoskins was replaced by Trevor Peacock, Charleson by Paul Jones, and Covington by Belinda Sinclair; in the spring of 1983 McKenzie was replaced by Imelda Staunton and Fiona Hendley replaced Sinclair. This production closed in late 1983 to make way for a Broadway try-out of the ill-fated musical Jean Seberg, which following critical failure closed after four months. Eyre's Guys and Dolls returned to the National from April through September 1984, this time starring Lulu, Norman Rossington, Clarke Peters and Betsy Brantley. After a nationwide tour, this production transferred to the West End at the Prince of Wales Theatre, where it ran from June 1985 to April 1986.
Following Ian Charleson's untimely death from AIDS at the age of 40, in November 1990 two reunion performances of Guys and Dolls, with almost all of the original 1982 cast and musicians, were given at the National Theatre as a tribute to Charleson. The tickets sold out immediately, and the dress rehearsal was also packed. The proceeds from the performances were donated to the new Ian Charleson Day Centre HIV clinic at the Royal Free Hospital, and to scholarships in Charleson's name at LAMDA.
1992 Broadway revival
DVD cover of the 1992 cast-album recording documentary, Guys and Dolls: Off the Record, starring Peter Gallagher, Josie de Guzman, Nathan Lane, and Faith PrinceThe 1992 Broadway revival was the most successful American remounting of the show since its original opening. Directed by Jerry Zaks, it starred Nathan Lane as Nathan Detroit, Peter Gallagher as Sky, Faith Prince as Adelaide and Josie de Guzman as Sarah. This production played at the Martin Beck Theatre from April 14, 1992 to January 8, 1995, with 1,143 performances.
The production received a rave review from Frank Rich in The New York Times, stating "It's hard to know which genius, and I do mean genius, to celebrate first while cheering the entertainment at the Martin Beck." It received eight Tony Award nominations, and won four, including Best Revival of a Musical, and the show also won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival. This revival featured various revisions to the show's score, including brand new music for the "Runyonland", "A Bushel and a Peck," "Take Back Your Mink" and "Havana". The orchestrations were redesigned by Michael Starobin, and there were new dance arrangements added to "A Bushel and a Peck" and "Take Back Your Mink".
A one-hour documentary film captured the recording sessions of the production's original cast album. Titled Guys and Dolls: Off the Record, the film aired on PBS's Great Performances series in December 1992, and was released on DVD in 2007. Complete takes of most of the show's songs are featured, as well as coaching from director Zaks, and commentary sessions by stars Gallagher, de Guzman, Lane, and Prince on the production and their characters.
1996 London revival
Richard Eyre repeated his 1982 success with another National Theatre revival of the show, this time in a limited run. It starred Henry Goodman as Nathan Detroit, Imelda Staunton returning as Adelaide, Clarke Peters returning as Sky and Joanna Riding as Sarah. Clive Rowe played Nicely-Nicely Johnson, and David Toguri returned as choreographer. The production ran from December 17, 1996 through March 29, 1997 and from July 2, 1997 to 22 November 22, 1997. It received three Olivier Award nominations, winning one: Best Supporting Performance in a Musical went to Clive Rowe. Richard Eyre won the Critics' Circle Theatre Award for Best Director, and the production won Best Musical.
2005 West End revival
The 2005 West End revival opened at London's Piccadilly Theatre in June 2005 and closed in April 2007. This revival, directed by Michael Grandage, starred Ewan McGregor as Sky, Jenna Russell as Sarah, Jane Krakowski as Adelaide, and Douglas Hodge as Nathan Detroit. During the run, Nigel Harman, Adam Cooper, Norman Bowman and Ben Freeman took over as Sky; Kelly Price, Amy Nuttall and Lisa Stokke took over as Sarah; Sarah Lancashire, Sally Ann Triplett, Claire Sweeney and Samantha Janus took over as Adelaide; and Nigel Lindsay, Neil Morrissey, Patrick Swayze, Alex Ferns and Don Johnson took over as Nathan Detroit. This production added the song "Adelaide" that Frank Loesser had written for the 1955 film adaptation. According to a September 2007 article in Playbill.com, this West End production had been scheduled to begin previews for a transfer to Broadway in February 2008, but this plan was dropped.
2009 Broadway revival
A 2009 Broadway revival of the show opened on March 1, 2009 at the Nederlander Theatre. The cast starred Oliver Platt as Nathan Detroit, Lauren Graham, in her Broadway debut, as Adelaide, Craig Bierko as Sky and Kate Jennings Grant as Sarah. Des McAnuff was the director, and the choreographer was Sergio Trujillo. The show opened to generally negative reviews. The New York Times called it "static" and "uninspired", the New York Post said, "How can something so zippy be so tedious?" and Time Out New York wrote, "Few things are more enervating than watching good material deflate." However, the show received a highly favorable review from The New Yorker, and the producers decided to keep the show open in hopes of positive audience response. The New York Post reported on March 4 that producer Howard Panter "[said] he'll give Guys and Dolls at least seven weeks to find an audience." The revival closed on June 14, 2009 after 28 previews and 113 performances.