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Kennedy Center ups the ante on Broadway with star-studded ‘Guys and Dolls’

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Recruiting a bushel and spike of top talent, the Kennedy Center is restarting its much-loved Broadway Center Stage series in October with an expanded schedule, improved format and timeless property: “Guys and Dolls” by Frank Loesser and Abe Burrows .

The arts center has the workhorse here, with a cast of polished riders for this musical based on Damon Runyon’s New York sons: Jessie Mueller as Miss Adelaide, the showgirl who wants to hear the wedding bells ; James Monroe Iglehart as Nathan Detroit, her unlucky eternal fiancé; Phillipa Soo as Salvation Army soul saver Sarah Brown and Steven Pasquale as the dashing Sky Masterson. The caliber of its stars above the title, announced by the center on Tuesday, makes the first show in the series since the pre-pandemic period particularly remarkable. “Next to Normal” in January 2020.

The evolution of the live-action musical series — which later in the season includes covers of “Sunset Boulevard,” starring Stephanie Block as Norma Desmond, and “Kiss of the Spider Woman” — also continues. In agreement with Actors’ Equity, the union representing professional actors and stage managers, the number of performances for each production was increased from eight to 10, and some staging restrictions relaxed. According to Kennedy Center officials, none of the actors will wear their scripts on stage again, a practice that was a concession to short rehearsal periods but which, over time, has proven inconvenient.

The changes will allow for more ambitious staging and fuller choreography, according to Jeffrey Finn, the center’s vice president and executive producer at the theater, which created Broadway Center Stage. “It will be much fuller productions,” Finn explained. “Having said that, I still want to showcase the musicians on stage like we’ve always done in the past. I feel like that’s an exciting part of what Center Stage is. (Over 30 orchestra members will be used for “Guys and Dolls”.)

From February 2018 with a reworked version of the musical “Chess” starring Raul Esparza and Karen Olivo (now going through knockouts), the series has become a magnet for musical theater fans as well as big-name actors and directors drawn in by the short engagement. From the first rehearsal to the final performance, the work takes only a month. “Getting in and out quickly is one of the things I love to do,” Iglehart said in a phone interview, noting that he’s one of the founding members of the popular hip-hop improv troupe, “Freestyle Love Supreme”.

Iglehart, who won a Tony for “Aladdin” and hosted the february concert celebrating 50 years of Broadway musicals at the Kennedy Center, is now part of the talent network Finn has built. Mueller, Tony Award winner for “Beautiful: The Carol King Musical,” played Marian the Librarian in Center Stage’s revival of “The Music Man” in 2019, a production with Norm Lewis as Professor Harold Hill which, in my opinion, was superior to the current version of Broadway with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster.

Soo, who plays Cinderella on Broadway “In the woods,” is married to Pasquale, who recently played John Wilkes Booth in an off-Broadway revival of “Murderers”. “Guys and Dolls” is the first time a married couple will be together in a show.

The advantages of the concert format – including economy and an emphasis on lyrics and music rather than lavish sets – were highlighted time and time again. “Chicago” by John Kander, Fred Ebb and Bob Fosse began the Encores series in New York in 1996 and played more than 10,000 performances on Broadway. Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s ‘Into the Woods’ was staged by director Lear deBessonet earlier this year at the Encores’ City Center home before moving to the St. James Theatre, where it will now run until 16 october.

How ‘Into the Woods’ makes the noise so joyful

No Broadway Center Stage production has yet left the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, where “Guys and Dolls” will run Oct. 7-16. Finn, however, has this aspiration in mind. The Kennedy Center production of “Chess”, for example, was seen as a test for a show with an excellent score (by Abba’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and Tim Rice) and a weak book or libretto. And others, like “The Who is Tommy” in 2019, were designed with such verve and freshness that a longer life elsewhere seemed possible.

But such wishes remain unfulfilled. “I produce them primarily for the Kennedy Center and for our audiences,” Finn said. “I’m confident that at the right time the stars will align to get the transfer done right. There just hasn’t been that moment yet. But I can’t wait for the stars to align.

“Guys and Dolls” will be directed by Marc Bruni, who directed Mueller in “Beautiful” and “The Music Man,” and will feature musical direction from Kevin Stites and choreography from Denis Jones. “It was the first musical I’ve seen on Broadway since the Golden Age,” Bruni said, of a 1992 revival featuring Nathan Lane and Faith Prince. “I went on a school trip and went twice more to see him. I was so in love with what the musical could do.

For Iglehart, shooting Nathan Detroit adds a chapter to a family story. His father, he said in an interview, played Sky Masterson in high school in Oakland, California, at a time when production was separate: Black and white students performed the show separately, Iglehart recalled.

“I always loved Frank Sinatra and fell in love with Nathan Detroit,” the actor said, referring to the 1955 film version which also starred Vivian Blaine, Jean Simmons and Marlon Brando. He sang the music to “Guys and Dolls” in his own high school choir in Hayward, California, and played one of Nathan’s sidekicks, Benny Southstreet, in a Bay Area community theater production.

It seems fitting that Iglehart won his Tony playing the genie in “Aladdin.” Because he has surely now granted one of his three wishes.

guys and dolls tickets are now available for purchase by Kennedy Center members and go on sale to the general public Thursday. 202-467-4600. kennedy-center.org.

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