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The song is, of all things, a misery-laden ode to the common cold.
But it sends audiences into raptures with every performance of Guys and Dolls at the Stratford Festival.
It’s also one of the most fiendishly difficult numbers in the musical theatre repertoire — a lesson soon learned by actress Blythe Wilson when she took on the role of perhaps the most endearing character in Frank Loesser’s evergreen musical about Broadway low-life.
For Wilson, a West Coast woman who never dreamed of making it in musicals, her current Stratford assignment is proving a major triumph. The show-stopping number is Adelaide’s Lament and it belongs to Miss Adelaide, the indomitable queen of the Hotbox Club who’s in a perpetual stage of engagement to Nathan Detroit, the beleaguered proprietor of the oldest floating crap game in New York.
“This role is already one of the biggest mountains to climb throughout the whole show,” Wilson says. But, she adds, the challenge of Adelaide’s Lament is in a class by itself.
Wilson is comic dynamite in the part, and she’s eternally grateful to composer-lyricist Frank Loesser for reserving some of his best numbers for Miss Adelaide when he created this classic 1948 show.
Vintage numbers like A Bushel and a Peck and Take Back Your Mink are experiencing an exciting rebirth thanks to Wilson’s powerhouse appeal.
But Adelaide’s Lament represents the pinnacle. Adelaide suffers perpetually from the sniffles, a possibly psychosomatic condition stemming from her prolonged unmarried status, and this unique number — with its intricate rhythms and witty word play — gives mischievous utterance to her misery.
A musical as demanding as Guys and Dolls requires the stamina of an Olympic athlete from its performers.
“I have a sort of regime,” Wilson explains. “I want to make sure I’ve had two huge meals and that I’ve done my proper warm-ups physically and vocally. I like to be ready at least 20 minutes before the start. Full makeup, full hair — everything ready to go.”
It’s all in the service of a characterization that has earned the plaudits of critics from both sides of the border — including, most recently, The New York Times. But with Guys and Dolls continuing its run to Oct. 28, Wilson knows there will be no let-up in the demands imposed by the show — and, in particular, by Adelaide’s Lament.
“If you’re not ready and warmed up and ready to express it and share it with the audience, you’re going to miss the train,” she warns.
Furthermore the number is never the same from performance to performance — not when Wilson does it.
“It changes day to day. As an actor you work continually on the text and music.”
This friendly and unassuming Stratford star admits she’s still surprised when she looks back on how it all started for her — to the Vancouver high school girl who aspired to be a classical actress when she enrolled at the West Coast city’s Playhouse acting school.
Although she had danced from childhood, she never imagined making it in musicals until friends and colleagues began telling her she had potential in that field.
“I’ve always felt I’ve had these amazing guardians looking after me,” she says now. Those guardians include the late Robin Phillips, a former festival artistic director, who cast her in the U.S. tour of his critically acclaimed production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love.
“I loved Robin,” she says now. “I learned so much from him.”
And then there’s Donna Feore, Stratford’s restlessly inventive director-choreographer, who has given the festival a succession of huge hits.
Wilson is happy to be back at Stratford after a nine-year absence.
“They’re at the top here. I’ve worked all over the world and nothing compares to what Stratford is doing.”
Despite her lustrous credentials, winning the role of Miss Adelaide was no shoo-in.
She herself auditioned four times and then read scenes with several different Nathan Detroits before actor Sean Arbuckle was assigned the role. She says the kind of Adelaide she’s giving audiences would be impossible without Arbuckle.
“Sean is so open and free. I knew instantly in the audition that there was something special about him.”
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