Another Roll of the Dice, the new musical by librettist Mark Saltzman, might as well be called More Guys and Dolls. Like the beloved hit musical Guys and Dolls, it marries songs by Frank Loesser and characters created by Damon Runyon, whose short stories were populated with shady, colorful denizens who haunt the alleys, nightclubs, hotels and other joints of the mid-century Broadway milieu. The new musical — a triptych of three one-act musicals, actually — is getting a developmental production Sept. 7-17 at Wyoming Theater Festival. Saltzman (Tin Pan Alley Rag) shared some thoughts about the project.
Larry Sousa directs a cast of six — Nick Ley, Megan Moran, Tito Livas, Rachel Hirshee, Gio Munguia — at the Mars Theater, a black box within the WYO Theater in Sheridan, WY, a western town free of the commercial pressures of major theater cities.
Three Runyon tales from the 1930s are used for the new show: “Tobias the Terrible,” “Breach of Promise” and “Baseball Hattie.” Saltzman told me, “We see three individual stories, but all within a 95-minute show. These stories are linked by a common theme: An unlikely person who, for a very personal reason, decides to give the shady side a try.”
At Wyoming Theater Festival, eager resident audiences will engage with playwrights, directors and casts in talkbacks after selected performances. The goal of the festival, artistic director DannyLee Hodnett says, is to get writers to crate drafts that are ready for future world-premiere stagings at theaters around the country. Writers will see work on its feet for the first time — memorized and staged, albeit modestly. For writers, the festival is about listening, learning and growing scripts. Inevitably, along the way, there are rewrites.
Musically, expect Another Roll of the Dice to have a piano-bass accompaniment sweetening the dramatic use of Loesser songs — some rarely performed — in the plot(s) inspired by three Runyon stories. Unlike Guys and Dolls, which has both music and lyrics by Tony, Oscar and Pulitzer winner Loesser, the Another Roll score swipes from the Loesser catalog and includes numbers with music by other Loesser collaborators — Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmy McHugh and more. Expect such classics as “Heart and Soul” (music by Carmichael, lyrics by Loesser), “Two Sleepy People” (music by Carmichael, lyrics by Loesser), “Let’s Get Lost” (music by Jimmy McHugh, lyrics by Loesser), “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (music and lyrics by Loesser, who won an Academy Award for it) and more. In addition to penning pop songs and movie songs, Loesser is perhaps best known as the composer-lyricist of How to Succeed in Business…, Guys and Dolls and The Most Happy Fella, among others. (His movie music, especially for “Hans Christian Andersen,” is beloved.)
Playing seven performances, Another Roll of the Dice is one of three new works getting fully-produced developmental productions in the 2017 Wyoming Theater Festival. My play Hollywood, Nebraska (directed by Scott Alan Evans) gets six performance Sept. 8-16, while Gabrielle Sinclair’s The Resolute (directed by Colleen Britt) gets six performances Sept. 7-15. There are additional staged readings of plays, plus workshops and other events in the festival. Learn more about the three developmental titles.
The musical director for Another Roll of the Dice is Jack Lipson; he’s on piano. Benny Lipson is on bass. Stage manager is Betsy Ellsworth.
I threw a few questions at Mark Saltzman, whose Romeo and Bernadette and Alice Formerly of Wonderland: A Musical Story of the Real Alice were seen at WyoTF in 2015 and 2016, respectively.
I’m always curious about the first inspiration that leads to a project. What inspired Another Roll of the Dice? A passion for Runyon? For Loesser?
Mark Saltzman: Truly, it was one of those projects that started with a phone call. This one was from the Runyon estate: “Are there any Runyon stories you might be interested in adapting? For stage or a movie or anything?” My heart kind of flipped over. I’d loved Runyon since college, and I knew how many great stories he’d written. And I had an actual work-reason to re-read them all.
“Dice” is in the title! I imagine gamblers figure into your musical?
Mark Saltzman: Gamblers, safecrackers, bookies, and perhaps most unsavory of all, a Wall Street stock broker.
What makes Runyon so ripe for musicalization? And why do you think Loesser has been such a successful match?
Mark Saltzman: There’s a streety swagger about both Runyon and Loesser. And it’s no surprise that Loesser was a favorite of the other Frank: Sinatra. “Luck Be a Lady Tonight” perfectly matched the Vegas rat-pack phase of the Sinatra career. The song contained gambling, sex, a ring-a-ding swing and all within what could accurately be called a prayer song.
Which Loesser songs did you have access to, and which songs were hands-off? Any chance “A Woman in Love,” from the film Guys and Dolls made it into your show? It’s a sensuous obscurity.
Mark Saltzman: Working with the Loesser estate, we agreed that songs from any of his theater scores would be off-limits; that I’d direct my attention to the radio/juke box pop songs and songs he wrote for recordings and movies, like “Heart and Soul” and “Two Sleepy People.” I’m not including “Woman in Love,” but a song that was in Guys and Dolls during try-outs — that was cut before New York — does appear in Another Roll of the Dice. It’s called “Travelin’ Light” and it was created as a duet for Sky Masterson and Nathan Detroit. But it has a tricky, sexy rhythm that I’m guessing was beyond the vocal skills of the original Nathan, Sam Levene.
Mark Saltzman began his career in New York with Jim Henson, writing for the Muppets. His “Sesame Street” sketches and songs (including “Caribbean Amphibian”) earned him seven Emmy Awards. At the same, Saltzman was writing cabaret shows and musicals that played at The Ballroom, Soho Rep, 13th Street Theater, and the Village Gate, where he co-wrote the long-running revue A, My Name is Alice. For network television, he collaborated with Jerry Herman on the TV movie “Mrs. Santa Claus” starring Angela Lansbury. For the movies, he wrote “The Adventures of Milo and Otis” and “Three Ninjas Kick Back” and has written and sold screenplays to SONY, Universal, and Disney. His TV movie, “The Red Sneakers,” directed by and starring Gregory Hines, aired on Showtime in 2004 and was nominated for a Writers Guild Award. Saltzman’s musical play The Tin Pan Alley Rag opened at the Pasadena Playhouse in 1997 and was nominated for five Los Angeles Ovation Awards, including Best Musical. It played The Coconut Grove Playhouse, Goodspeed and Cleveland Play House and made its New York City premiere in a 2009 staging at Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre Off-Broadway. His stage musical Romeo and Bernadette played Coconut Grove Playhouse in Miami and has been produced by Paper Mill Playhouse, as well as internationally in Seoul and Manila. The show was retooled at the inaugural Wyoming Theater Festival in 2015. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization asked him to adapt the classic Show Boat for a performance at the Hollywood Bowl. His musical Falling For Make Believe opened in April 2013 at the Colony Theater in California. His play, Mr. Shaw Goes to Hollywood, based on the 1933 visit of George Bernard Shaw to the MGM studio, premiered at the Laguna Playhouse in April 2003. His play Clutter had its world premiere at the Colony. His play Rocket City, Alabam, was produced by Alabama Shakespeare Festival. Saltzman is a graduate of Cornell University’s English and Theater Departments. He makes his home in Los Angles.