Theories on the origin of the theater idiom “break a leg” abound, but all seem to agree that no breaking of bones is intended when someone offers the phrase to an actor for good luck. But it was a literal broken leg – or foot, rather – that fortuitously led to Shelly Horn first directing “Guys and Dolls.” Set in New York City in the 1950s, the musical centers on a group of petty criminals and their dealings in gambling and in love. Horn will be directing the McLean Community Players’ production of the Broadway-turned-film classic this month at The Alden.
A production of “Guys and Dolls” at the University of Maryland became the unexpected first credit in Horn’s now 25 years of directing for the stage. She was acting in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” for the school’s Terabac dinner theater when she broke her foot. Her cast came off before the end of the musical’s run and she was able to perform. On the way to a cast party, though, she fell and broke her other foot. It was then that she was offered the chance to pull up a director’s chair and assistant direct the program’s next production, “Guys and Dolls.” When the director fell ill, she had to fill in for the final three weeks of the show. Before that she had always acted, and the directing experience changed her course in theater.
“I thought that was the greatest thing ever, and I’ve been directing ever since,” Horn said.
Still that production of “Guys and Dolls” was one handed over to her; she didn’t get to direct it from start to finish, and she’d wanted to for a long time before she got her shot with the McLean Community Players this year.
She played the soundtrack in her house growing up. “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “A Bushel and a Peck” – she knew the words to every song. The musical played a pivotal role in her theater life. It’s been called the perfect musical comedy. Horn doesn’t know if such a thing exists, but says that “Guys and Dolls” has the hallmarks of a classic musical.
It tells a sweet story, she says; it’s been likened to a fairytale. She feels the story resonates with people of all ages. There’s a message, but it’s not too forcefully delivered in this fun and fast-paced musical. And it has beautiful music that works to tell the tale.
“I adore the show,” Horn said, “adore it.”
Horn has long been familiar with the “Guys and Dolls” story, as will many theater-goers who’ll see the McLean Players perform this musical. But there will be newcomers in the audience, as well. For her production she has both groups in mind; she wants to entertain the longtime fans and make newcomers fall in love with this musical.
“I want people to be so engrossed that they leave thinking to themselves, ‘this is exactly how it should be done,’” Horn said.
“Guys and Dolls” runs July 11 – 27. Performances are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. The play will be performed at the McLean Community Center’s Alden Theatre, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean. Tickets are $18 – $20. For more information, visit mcleanplayers.org or call 866-811-4111.