Kids Perform Classic Musical ‘Guys and Dolls’ at the Loew’s Theater

The cast of 'Guys and Dolls' in rehearsal

If you’re a young actor in Jersey City, there are a few things you probably want to do. One is to be in one of the greatest musicals of all time–something that ran on Broadway and won multiple Tony Awards. Another is to be on one of the grandest stages in Hudson County.

For 27 actors ages 8 to 17, in Art House Productions’ (AHP) STAGES! after-school theater camp program, both of these wishes will be granted when they perform a junior (abridged) version of the classic Guys and Dolls at the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Journal Square at the end of this month.

Since its inception in 2010, STAGES has helped hundreds of local kids build their self-esteem and confidence as well as learn the ins and outs of putting on a musical production through three different shows–Seussical, Beauty and the Beast, Annie Jr. and now, Guys and Dolls.

While the previous shows were held in AHP’s ever-changing space near Hamilton Park, this play will be the first to be performed off-site thanks to support from the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey and the Friends of the Loew’s, says AHP Executive Director Christine Goodman, adding that “This will be a very special performance for our youth.”

For those unfamiliar with the Frank Loesser musical, Guys and Dolls premiered in 1950 and won the Tony for Best Musical. In the tale, which was inspired by two short stories by writer Damon Runyon, Nathan Detroit bets gambler Sky Masterson $1,000 that he can’t get religious Sarah Brown to run away with him to Havana. Meanwhile, Nathan tries to work things out with his fiance of 14 years, Adelaide, who is dying to get married.

Director Kit Vogelsang says that with more boys than girls (their roster is often girl-heavy), the STAGES! producers jumped at the chance to do this musical theater favorite.

The cast of 'Guys and Dolls' in rehearsal

“It’s a show that all of us have been interested in doing,” says Vogelsang. “And while we do have female actors playing men, this is one of the shows that you can only do when you have a handful of actual guys.”

The cast includes several STAGES veterans from previous shows but also includes new faces. “We have some wonderful new kids; all of them are great,” says Vogelsang. “The program just grows and grows and I’m so glad to see people bringing friends in and people coming in because they heard about it.”

First-timer Daniel Wilson, 17, plays small-time gambler Nicely-Nicely Johnson. While Wilson is new to the program, he’s no stranger to the stage or working with AHP. In September, his one-man show Click, Spark, Vroom, about a young man’s journey from pedestrian to driver, was part of AHP’s inaugural So Low Theater Festival. In February, he was called back to the stage to open for Grammy- and Tony-award nominated writer and performer Reg E. Gaines’s show The Last Celebrity.

Gaines had high praise for Wilson. “He makes choices based on the brilliance of the writing and creates characters which have depth but also contradictions. This is very rare for a person of such a young age and minimal experience,” says the JC native, who has worked with Wilson at the Hip-Hop and Downtown Urban theater festivals as well as at Jersey City Arts High School workshops. “I am sure audiences for Guys and Dolls will revel in his emotional and comedic choices.”

Overall, Vogelsang says all the actors and the two student assistant stage managers are excited about the show, which they have been working on for the past semester.

“The kids are enjoying it a lot. There are a lot of fun numbers like ‘Luck Be a Lady’ and a lot of complicated dances which they are great at!” she says.

While learning the songs and acting is tough, tackling the gigantic Loew’s Theater is even tougher, she says.

The cast of 'Guys and Dolls' in rehearsal

“We’re used to performing and rehearsing in our home venue at Art House, and this is much larger than we’re used to,” she says. “Also, we only have the week before the show to work in the space. For adult actors, that’s normal, but for kids this is going to be a challenge. They have to learn how to use the new space and about projecting–as we all know, the Loew’s is huge! But I know they will definitely rise to it.”

To help them conquer the 35-by-82-foot stage, Vogelsang has recruited Rock Soup Studios artist John Fathom to make the set and has also gotten 12 body mics that will aid the actors in getting their voices across the theater, which has just under 3,100 seats.

“It’s challenging but it’s also really a blessing. This is a great opportunity since a lot of these kids haven’t even been in the Loew’s, let alone performed on the stage,” she says.

In the end, the most important lessons for the students are not just about theater, but about themselves, says Vogelsang.

“I hope they take away a sense of confidence in their own lives, that they find comfort in their own skin, being who they are and also having the ability to adapt to changing circumstances on and off the stage,” she says. “I’m looking forward to seeing them singing and dancing and watching a new generation embrace this classic.”

Guys and Dolls will be held on May 31 and June 1 at 7 pm and June 2 at 2 pm at the Landmark Loew’s Jersey Theatre, 54 Journal Sq. Tickets are $12, $8 for students and seniors in advance; tickets for all are $15 at the door. For more information, visit arthouseproductions.org.

Photos courtesy of Art House Productions

Summer Dawn Hortillosa

is a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.