For anyone who knows and loves musical theater, “Guys and Dolls” is one of the all-time best. With music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, it won a 1951 Tony Award for Best Musical and contains one of my favorite lines in its title song: “Call it hell, call it heaven, it’s a probable 12 to 7 that the guy’s only doing it for some doll.” Now, almost seven decades later, we get a follow-up.
“Another Roll of the Dice,” featuring songs from the Loesser songbook and stories from Damon Runyon, whose writings inspired “Guys and Dolls,” is having its world premiere at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach from July 10-Aug. 11, and it’s a probable 12 to 7 that “Dice” could be a winner.
Along with major Loesser numbers like “Heart and Soul” and “Two Sleepy People,” there’s a book by award-winning stage, screen and TV writer Mark Saltzman, best known for creating Muppet dialogue and songs for “Sesame Street.”
There are Runyon characters like Tobias the Terrible and Baseball Hattie; the main setting is Mindy’s Deli, an all-night restaurant in midtown Manhattan; the time is Runyon-time, around the late 1930s, and the director/choreographer is Larry Sousa, who’s been rolling with the show since 2017.
Sousa, who has won a number of awards himself, and is also a professor of musical theater at the Boston Conservatory, first met Saltzman in 1996 when Sousa was performing in “Mrs. Santa Claus,” a TV movie musical starring Angela Lansbury with a screenplay by Saltzman. A year later, Saltzman asked him to choreograph “The Tin Pan Alley Rag,” a musical he’d written that was premiering at the Pasadena Playhouse.
“We did three productions of that, and kept in touch over the years,” Sousa said. “Then in 2017, Mark called me in to direct and choreograph a workshop of ‘Another Roll of the Dice,’ for the Wyoming Theater Festival. Last year, after making big changes, we did another workshop at the Boston Conservatory Theater with a cast of graduate students. We continued developing, and we’re still making changes, but now they’re little ones, just tightening things up.”
This is not a sequel to “Guys and Dolls,” but a whole new show, based on three Runyon stories plus a new one by Saltzman that introduces a narrator — a waitress at Mindy’s named Zelma — and ties all the stories together.
There are six actors playing 30 characters — gangsters, gamblers, cabaret singers and cops — and singing 14 songs by Loesser and some of his collaborators.
“We call it an accomplice to ‘Guys and Dolls,’ ” Sousa said. “We start out like a classic musical comedy and then we go deeper, unpeeling the layers of the characters, revealing the real humans underneath. There are four different love stories playing out in really fresh, interesting ways, with surprises at every turn. It’s the kind of show I’d like to be in!”
• Ellenstein-Saltzman connection
David Ellenstein, North Coast Rep’s artistic director, has known Saltzman for years.
“I directed the premiere of his play ‘Rocket City’ at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in 2008 and we became friends and colleagues there,” Ellenstein said. “I knew of his project ‘Another Roll of the Dice’ and was intrigued, so when Mark approached me about premiering it at North Coast, I said yes.
“A new play is always in process and being refined right up to opening night. We are very excited about the potential that this one possesses.”
• IF YOU GO: "Another Roll of the Dice,” matinees, evenings through Aug. 11. North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. July 19: Talkback with cast and director after show. Tickets: $49-$56. Discounts and $20 rush tickets. (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org