Over the course of his theatrical career, Christopher Swan has approached the Frank Loesser musical Guys and Dolls from a variety of angles.
"I'm actually working my way through the show," Swan said. "I've done three productions and I've done a different part in each one."
Swan, a native of Barre, Vt., first tackled the role of strong-armed lawman Lt. Kenneth Brannigan in college. Later, he would play compulsive gambler Sky Masterson while performing in summer theatre in Boston.
Now, Swan gets to play affable gangster Nathan Detroit in the national touring Broadway production of Guys and Dolls, which comes to the Lexington Opera House this weekend.
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The Tony Award-winning musical, based on the short stories of author Damon Runyon, gives the audience a light-hearted and colorful glimpse of the criminal underworld of 1940s New York City. Nathan Detroit is trying to keep his illegal gambling business running while maintaining his 14-year engagement with an increasingly frustrated Miss Adelaide. To secure the money to hold his gambling location, he makes a $1,000 bet with Sky Masterson that he must take a girl of Detroit's choosing to Havana, Cuba, for dinner. He chooses Sarah Brown, a sergeant at the Save-a-Soul Mission who walks the straight and narrow path and is adamantly against gambling. Masterson puts on the front of a reforming gambler who offers to bring others like him to nightly support meetings in exchange for an evening getaway. After their evening in Havana, Masterson and Brown develop genuine affection for each other, making their return to Detroit's high-stakes world of gambling and crime even more complicated.
Swan, who is in his mid-40s, fell in love with the look, sound and feel of Guys and Dolls when he saw the 1955 film adaptation starring Frank Sinatra as Nathan Detroit alongside Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine.
"They had this kind of fun and freedom in this society," Swan says. "They were gangsters, but they were fun gangsters."
Swan said one of the best parts of Guys and Dolls is the music. The music and lyrics of Frank Loesser really set the tone, whether it's the dazzling opener Runyonland, the infectious classic A Bushel and a Peck or songs like Luck Be a Lady that have transcended the Broadway stage, the sights and sounds of this musical really supports the performances.
"The lights in the show, you look around on stage and feel a part of it," Swan says. "It really brings the energy to you. You don't just have to create it on your own."
Given its long and successful history on Broadway, Guys and Dolls' transfer to the big screen and productions of the musical on theater stages big and small across the country year after year, many people have probably seen Guys and Dolls and have fond memories of certain moments in the musical. Swan certainly has a few, but even after having two productions of Guys and Dolls to his credit, he thinks his third time with the musical really has been the charm — and will be for anyone who sees the production in Lexington this weekend.
"As actors, we're always like, we can do this show anywhere and the show will stand on itself," he says. "As far as feeling like you're in the fullest imagined version of Guys and Dolls, this is it. I couldn't ask for anything more."