Based on Damon Runyon short stories of the 1920s and '30s, Guys & Dolls has always seemed a most New York City kind of musical, roiling with that city's underworld even as updated to the '50s with '40s era zoot suits.
Now the story of Nathan Detroit, Sarah Brown, Adelaide and Sky Masterson has been "re-imagined" in a cast headed by Hispanic actors in many of the key roles. The reset has moved the neighborhood to Spanish Harlem and many of the characters in this version come from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
Theatre Under the Stars is hosting this final main stage show of its 49th season.
Omar Lopez-Cepero (Broadway: On your Feet!, American Idiot) plays the role of Sky Masterson, the shiftless gambler who ends up falling in love with Sarah Brown, an upright Christian who leads a mission devoted to saving souls. Meanwhile Nathan Detroit, while bent on winning a bet against Masterson, seems unable to commit to finally marry his longtime girlfriend Adelaide, paying a lot more attention to the craps game he's running. It's a cornucopia of missed changes, misunderstandings and rapid fire dialog.
"I was excited to come in and bring a new take to an old classic," Lopez-Cepero says. Essentially, the music and lyrics by Frank Loesser and book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows remain the same, with just a few tweaks, he says.
"They were given permission to play with a few things but the script as written is really a great script. It's really an actors' show. so we didn't want to mess with the script too much. What we do is a little more ad libs that include Spanish in salutations and things like that.
"Most of it is being done simply with an accent and some characters have accents and some don't and that's kind of to establish that some have been there, were born there and were forced by their family to assimilate as much as possible," Lopez-Cepero says. His character has a very thick Cuban accent, he says, because he is a recent arrival.
The Sarah character played by Madison Claire Parks is white, which adds a little more tension to their unlikely alignment, Lopez-Cepero says.
As we first see him, Sky Masterson has shielded himself behind a facade of being a tough guy, Lopez-Cepero says. "I think he gets suckered into this life of being a gangster. He’s convincing; he’s charming; he's used to winning.
"He meets his match in Sarah Brown. It's the first woman who has challenged him in a way. He's used to getting what he wants. She has a strong moral compass.She's intelligent. It inspires him.
"Conversely she is this very principled person who has a strong exterior that will do no wrong. But she has a side that wants to explore and wants to be a little wilds. so I think she balances him out and I think that's why they're the perfect match for each other.
Growing up , Lopez-Cepero was an athlete, he says. "My father was a big opera fan but had no experience in the arts. I was lucky that I lived in the part of northern Atlanta that had a great public school system, that had great arts programs."
Although he'd hoped to go to college on a soccer scholarship. Lopez-Cepero says one of his teachers encouraged him to try for a music scholarship instead predicting the amount granted would be larger. The teacher was right and he ended up getting a full scholarship to the University of Miami where he majored in classical voice. Eventually, he says, he realized his true calling was in theater.
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Asked about his favorite song in Guys & Dolls, Lopez-Cepero responds: "Obviously, "Luck Be a Lady" is a great show stopper and great song. But I love "My Time of Day." I think there's something so interesting in that melody. It's so simple yet complicated. And it's a very vulnerable moment with him and Sarah. I think it's just a very special moment in the show."
He predicts that audiences will love the new approach to this show.
"Three songs have slightly more Latin flavor in terms of the orchestrations and percussions. There’s some exceptional singing and some exceptional acting. For a long time Latino actors were expected to fit into a certain mold and I think that it's great that there are more opportunities to explore the Latino or immigrant experience and also have the opportunity to tell a story about love and explore something that's been done so many times and get to tell it in a different way."
Performances are scheduled for June 12-24 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. For information, call 713-558-8887 or visit tuts.com. $30-$128 plus fees.