Rant ‘N’ Roll: Guys & Dolls & Fred

EASTON, PA—When “Guys & Dolls: A Music Fable Of Broadway” ran for 1,200 performances and won the 1950 Tony Award as “Best Musical,” Senator Estes Kefauver introduced his resolution calling for an investigation of organized crime. Boston thieves made off with two mil in the “Great Brinks Robbery.” President Truman ordered the development of the hydrogen bomb. The Korean War raged on. The comic strip “Peanuts” debuted. Poet T.S. Eliot warned the people of England against television. Child star Shirley Temple announced her show biz retirement at 22. Peter Frampton was born.

In 1955, “Guys & Dolls” was made into a movie with Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra.

Based on short stories by Damon Runyon [1880-1946] with music and lyrics by Frank Loesser, this timeless piece of classic American Musical Theater has such unforgettable characters as Nathan Detroit (hellbent to establish a floating crap game in Manhattan while staying engaged to his long-suffering girlfriend Adelaide for 14 years) and Sarah Brown (the do-gooder mission worker who protests against gambling but falls in love with Sky Masterson, the biggest gambler of them all). It would have won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1951 but didn’t because the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) incorrectly labeled Abe Burrows (who co-wrote the play’s story) a Communist, thus there was no winner that year.

Revived on Broadway in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘90s and ‘00s, it has remained a cultural favorite of every generation since its inception with its tough-guy patter about broads, booze and gambling, yet, at its heart, is the 1950 mushy sensibility that marriage makes everything perfect. Although that sentiment is rather dated and corny, one cannot resist songs like the title tune, “Bushel And A Peck,” “Adelaide’s Lament,” “Luck Be A Lady” and “Sit Down You’re Rockin’ The Boat.”

With its action-packed choreography, updated jokes, period costuming (originally written about New York City’s 1920s underground culture, the musical boasts a pre-rock ‘n’ roll late ‘40s flair) and pure sass, it skips along quite deliciously (if you can swallow the intermittent sermonizing).

The State Theatre, with its gorgeous innards, its superior sound and lights, its pit that can fit a small orchestra, its ghost (Fred), and even its sumptuous curtain that dramatically opens and closes each show, is in walking distance of about six great restaurants. The venue is a class act all the way, and has become, over the last few years, quite the Lehigh Valley cultural fixture, as easily accessible from North Jersey as it is from Philadelphia. Upcoming shows include the Beach Boys (April 22), “Oh What A Night Of Doo Wop & Rock ‘N’ Roll” with The Skyliners, Gene “Duke Of Earl” Chandler, Cleveland Still & The Dubs, The Clovers, Jimmy Clanton and Lenny Dell & The Demensions (April 25), Tony Bennett (May 1), “Nobodies Of Comedy” (May 2) and Vince Gill (May 6).

Fred The Ghost has actually appeared to various staffers, concertgoers and musicians. The story goes that during the 1970s, shows were in decline, but there was a strange presence that no one could account for. When the theater was empty, maintenance workers swore they oftentimes noticed a man in the back of the theater just standing there. The police were eventually brought in and used dogs to ferret out the apparition’s existence but the only visible result was that the hair on the necks of the dogs appeared to bristle.

J. Fred Osterstock managed the company that owned the venue from 1936 to 1965. He lived in an office located to the right of the foyer due to a 1955 flood at his home. Since his 1957 death, there have been a total of 10 sightings, including numerous members of the venue’s board of directors. In the late ‘70s, historian Kenneth Klabunde saw someone walk across the stage and after digging up a picture of the late Mr. Osterstock, realized it was the man he saw. His spectral presence has even survived the 1990 restoration. He has been included in the book “Ghost Stories Of The Lehigh Valley” and was featured in 1999 on the syndicated radio program “The Mike Gallagher Show.” In 2003, the area’s prestigious Freddy Awards were named after him. He even has his own twitter feed @FredTheGhostPA.