Classic American Tale ‘Guys and Dolls’ at The Public; Split Stage Puts On Sondheim’s ‘Assassins’ (Thurs., 2/4/16)

1) Pittsburgh Public Theater’s musical this season is among the most storied—literally—of all time. Guys and Dolls, by Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling, and Abe Burrows, was adapted from short stories by Damon Runyon, who wrote wildly popular tall tales about gamblers and grifters in the New York underworld of the 1920s and ‘30s. The 1950 musical delighted audiences and dominated the Tony Awards by translating Runyon’s colorful style to the stage. A 1955 movie version won no Oscars, but won a place in show-biz lore because of the actor cast in the lead: It was Marlon Brando’s only musical. (As the video above illustrates, he “acted” his songs more than actually singing them.) The plot of Guys and Dolls revolves around a gambler betting he can woo a beautiful woman who is out to save souls as a street-corner evangelist. Of the songs, only “Luck Be a Lady” became a stand-alone hit—but the songs weren’t written to stand alone. One reason Guys and Dolls has been called a “perfect” musical is that the music and story work so well together. 8 p.m. Performances through February 28. At the O’Reilly Theater, 621 Penn Ave., Cultural District. (MV)


Charles Guiteau insisted he didn't kill James Garfield; "the doctors did." Guiteau was hanged anyway, but he reappears in Sondheim's "Assassins."

Charles Guiteau insisted he didn’t kill James Garfield; “the doctors did.” Guiteau, who was hanged anyway, reappears in Sondheim’s “Assassins.”

2) Stephen Sondheim’s Assassins is similar to his earlier musical Sweeney Todd in this respect: Both are insidiously entertaining shows about gruesome subjects. The difference is that the murders and madness depicted in Assassins are real. The characters are nine people from history who killed, or tried to kill, American presidents. They’re brought together for an imaginary shooting-gallery game at a fair. Then, in bizarre scenes and songs that can make you laugh while you shudder, the nine take turns acting out their deranged passions and firing away. Booth and Oswald have major scenes, of course, though the meat of the show spotlights lesser-known figures like Charles Guiteau, the grandiosely deluded assassin of James Garfield, and Sara Jane Moore, the pistol-packing mom who shot at Gerald Ford and missed. Westmoreland County’s Split Stage Productions is performing Assassins, which itself has been one of Sondheim’s lesser-known works. The musical (with libretto by John Weidman) was written off as a striking but odd experiment when it premiered in 1990. But a 2004 Broadway revival won multiple Tony Awards, and Assassins has gained growing attention lately. 8 p.m. Continues through February 6. At Greensburg Garden and Civic Center, 951 Old Salem Rd., Greensburg. (MV)


3) The Finest Hours – Not content with just being cold, The Finest Hours tosses into the mix the added fun of being sopping wet! This wintry and watery tale is based on a book from 2009 that was sorta/kinda based on a true life event. It’s 1952 and a horrifying blizzard (naturally) strikes off the coast of Cape Cod (obviously.) There’s an oil tanker out there caught in the middle of it and is cleft in twain, leaving more than 30 sailors trapped on the half that has only hours to remain afloat. A handful of very dedicated Coast Guard men (four, to be exact) set out in a small boat to rescue them. Chris Pine stars with Eric Bana and Carey Affleck. Craig Gillespie directs from a screenplay by Scott Silver, Eric Johnson and Paul Tamasy. The Finest Hours is being released by Disney in regular format, Disney Digital 3-D, RealD3D and IMAX3D. If they had any guts, they’d make the theaters turn the air conditioning all the way up and every 20 minutes or so have ushers run down the aisles throwing buckets of water on the audience. Check Fandango for screens and times. (TH)

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Rick Handler

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