Katie Cline, Editor-in-Chief
1930s New York City comes to Jacksonville with JSU Drama’s production of “Guys and Dolls” February 23-25 and March 2-4. The musical follows Nathan Detroit, a gambler, as he tries to set up the biggest crap game in the city, much to the dissatisfaction of his fiancée of 14 years, Miss Adelaide. But with Sky Masterson in town, Detroit may be able to scrape up the funds to run his game, if he can win a bet that Masterson can’t take Sarah Brown, an uptight missionary on a date to Havana.
At the reins of this production is Assistant Professor of Drama Carrie Colton, who’s excited to be taking on a classic musical of this caliber.
“For the most part, we are keeping it very traditional,” Colton said. “‘Guys and Dolls’ is one of the most famous musicals of all time for a reason. And if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”
Eric Wilkerson, a junior drama major who plays Detroit, has enjoyed being able to find himself in the character.
“The most fun, I have to say, is the sense of satisfaction whenever each of us are able to bring something unique to our characters,” Wilkerson said. “Carrie gives us a lot of room to explore letting us add our own subtle quirks here and there. This has allowed me to really have a sense of ownership to my interpretation of Nathan.”
And Colton is thrilled with how the show is coming along.
“The cast is amazing!” Colton said. “Several of my actors are working with me for the very first time, and I have so enjoyed all of them. These are some great kids, and, watch out, they’re going to Broadway!”
Colton started at JSU in 2016, and the job has been her first foray into academic theater. Prior to teaching, Colton studied theatre at Southern Utah University and Florida State University and worked professionally.
“I am new to academic theater,” Colton said. “I am used to working Summer Stock Productions and with professional actors, so it took a little bit for me to get used to working with student actors and a whole new design team. It’s been a challenge but a wonderfully positive one.”
For senior Brianna Garrett, who plays Adelaide, being part of JSU’s drama department is lie coming full circle.
“I have been doing theatre since I was kid!” Garrett said. “I’m from upstate New York—Rochester—and my mom took me to local casting class to do commercials and things like that as well as acting classes. I didn’t pick acting back up until my first year here at JSU, and I’ve been loving it ever since!”
Garrett has been seen in several roles in JSU productions, such as Granny from “Into the Woods,” Roger’s mother in “RENT” and Nettie Fowler in “Carousel,” but experience doesn’t mean that everything comes easily this time around.
“Adelaide has a cold throughout the entirety of the show, so I have to talk like I am constantly stuffed up in the nose,” Garrett said of the most challenging part of her character.
Putting on a musical requires hard work from everyone involved. The 35-man cast needs to be fitted in costumes—many of which have to be made—and the entire company needs dance and vocal training on top of the usual dialogue and movement work.
“The most challenging part of ‘Guys and Dolls,’ for me at least, has been balancing the acting aspect alongside the musical aspect,” Wilkerson said. “This is such a different show compared to a drama like [last semester’s production of] ‘An Enemy of the People’ that it requires a completely different mindset to make sure that each of these aspects are given proper time and dedication in and out of the rehearsal hall.”
But Colton believes all the cast and crew’s hard work will pay off come curtain time.
“I guarantee this is going to be one of the funnest shows you’ve ever seen!” Colton said. “There are so many laughs, so many wonderful musical numbers, and it is a beautiful way to escape whatever nasty reality you’re living in. For two hours, I can guarantee you will have a good time and forget whatever is happening outside of that theater.”
For anyone on the fence about musicals, Garrett understands. She’s been there, too.
“Musical theatre is my absolute passion, and I honestly used to turn my nose up at musicals,” Garett said. “But once you see one and find one that really sticks with you, your life is severely changed. I would say that if you miss out on this show, you will truly miss out on experiencing a classic. The costumes, the hair, the wit—it’s something that you won’t find anywhere else around here.”
“There’s nothing quite like seeing a live performance,” Wilkerson added. “You get to be taken on a journey through a show full of people that have spent months practicing and polishing to make something truly great for the audience to experience. In a live performance, you really get a sense of interaction with the show itself. Your reactions fuel the actors, letting them play off the audience as well as their scene partners.”
The musical “Guys and Dolls” is based on two short stories by Runyon also stars Brianna Garrett as Miss Adelaide, Brandon Clark as Sky Masterson, Dominique Cheney as Sarah Brown, Gavin Haynes and Philip Frazier as Detroit’s gambling friends Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Benny Southstreet and Aaron Williams as the by-the-books police officer Lieutenant Branningan.
Tickets for JSU’s production can be purchased online or in the box office. Performance times are 7:30 p.m. February 23-24 and March 2-3 and 2:30 p.m. February 25 and March 4.