With ‘Guys and Dolls,’ musical theatre returns to Cordova

But will vax-or-mask rule deter audiences?

From left, Ella Fish and Amanda Williams rehearse at the North Star Theatre. (Oct. 17, 2021) Photo by Zachary Snowdon Smith/The Cordova Times

After nearly two years of lockdowns, mandates and contentious debates, Cordova will receive a dose of escapism in the form of “Guys and Dolls,” a comedic musical production by Stage of the Tide.

The 1950 Broadway classic moves from the Save-a-Soul religious mission station to a seamy Cuban nightclub and the sewers of New York City, where mobsters hold illegal dice games away from the eye of the law. “Guys and Dolls” spawned jazz standards like “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” and was selected for a Pulitzer Prize — only to have the award vetoed after one of the musical’s writers was found to have Communist Party connections. Throughout its 71 years, “Guys and Dolls” has been the subject of numerous revivals on either side of the Atlantic, as well as an Oscar-nominated 1955 film adaptation starring Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.

“It’s incredibly old-fashioned and misogynistic, but if you do it with a lighthearted flair, it’s fun,” said Barclay Kopchak, the show’s director and producer. “I hope [audiences] remember what fun it is to gather and laugh together.”

“Guys and Dolls” will be Stage of the Tide’s fifth show at the Cordova Center. The company began with smaller and simpler productions like the play “Our Town,” building up to more elaborate shows over the years. This year’s production involves about 20 actors, a nine-piece band including City Manager Helen Howarth on cello, and various crew and technical staff. Typically, Stage of the Tide builds heavy and complex sets. However, this year set dressing will consist mainly of five giant dice made from boxes donated by 60 Degrees North and Trident Seafoods. In different scenes, the dice will be arranged to suggest skyscrapers, a nightclub and the jumbled streets of Havana.

Preparing on a tight schedule, performers have had to study around the clock to master their parts in time for the Nov. 5 premiere. Amanda Williams, who will portray a strait-laced missionary who falls in love with a gambler, said she’s kept recordings of the show on repeat when not rehearsing.

“The ratio of practice time to performance time is absurd, so you have to enjoy the process of practice: the camaraderie of making mistakes together and learning things,” Kopchak said.

As well as 20 mainly lighthearted musical numbers, “Guys and Dolls” includes dance sequences choreographed by Kopchak and Current Rhythms dance studio owner Alyssa Kleissler. The musical’s best-known dance numbers include the “Crapshooters Ballet,” in which assorted New York wiseguys pirouette from one end of an underground gambling den to another. Many of the show’s dancing performers had no previous dance training, requiring Kleissler to give them a crash course while preparing them for the show. Kleissler has enjoyed the challenge, she said.

Image courtesy of Stage of the Tide

“Everybody is working super-duper hard and having a lot of fun,” Williams said. “People that don’t know each other are getting to know each other, and everybody’s really enjoying it.”

Because Stage of the Tide has had more success recruiting women than men, it’s previously favored musicals with mainly female casts, such as “Nunsense” and “Pioneer Women.” “Guys and Dolls” will require an unusual number of women to play male characters, Kopchak said.

However, the show’s biggest challenge may be neither the singing nor the sets nor the choreography, but the COVID-19 safety measures. To gain admission, audience members will be required either to provide proof they have been vaccinated against the virus, or to provide proof of a negative virus test result and wear a mask during the performance. Stage of the Tide usually aims to break even, though even that modest goal may be out of reach if these rules deter audiences. The full cost of the production is projected to be around $5,000.

“I don’t know how that’s going to go,” Kopchak said. “That’s the thing that’s been haunting me: that we are going to lose money.”

Kopchak remains hopeful in spite of concerns about attendance, and in spite of having broken her leg barely a week into production, requiring her to direct on crutches.

“It was fall, so I fell,” Kopchak quipped.

Most performers, needing to project their voices, have not worn masks throughout rehearsals. However, everyone involved in the production has been vaccinated against COVID-19, Kopchak said. The show’s two youngest cast members turned 12 within a week of the start of production, Kopchak said — just in time to be eligible for vaccination, which is not currently available to under-12s in the United States. With many theatrical companies on hiatus due to the pandemic, “Guys and Dolls” is one of just a few such shows underway in Alaska.

“The joy of community theatre — I’ve missed it during the pandemic, and I want to bring it back to people,” Kopchak said.

Stage of the Tide will hold showings of “Guys and Dolls” at the Cordova Center’s North Star Theatre on Friday, Nov. 5 at 7 p.m. and on Saturday, Nov. 6 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are available for $15 at the Cordova Historical Museum and at the Net Loft crafting store, as well as at the door preceding performances. More information about the performance is available by calling Kopchak at 907-227-0452.