Memories of Melody Top: Remembering Milwaukee’s Summer Stock Theatre

Reuniting two Academy Award-winning stars from the movie version of WEST SIDE STORY, George Chakiris and Rita Moreno, Melody Top staged a second and well-received production of GUYS AND DOLLS during the summer of 1974. At this time in her legendary career, Ms. Moreno received second billing and was only half way in achieving her status as an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony) winner. She had to wait another year to receive her Tony in 1975 for the Broadway production of THE RITZ and her first Emmy in 1977. Always adored by Milwaukee audiences, she appeared with Tab Hunter in BELLS ARE RINGING at Melody Top during 1976 and was the most-requested celebrity for a return engagement in a 1986 audience survey. Below are just a few photographs in sun-drenched color from Sally Marks and Gary Bruski to rekindle memories of this most cherished and honored musical comedy.

Plan to See These Guys and Dolls

By Don Lewis of the Journal Staff, Wednesday, July 17, 1974

"Sssst! Hey, buddy! Wanna piece a' the action? I'll give ya eight to five you are gonna do no better than this game that Nathan an' the boys got set up at 7201 West Good Hope Road."

Okay, so a Damon Runyon I ain't. But the advice holds: If you get out to the Melody Top tent theater only once a season, don't wait any longer. The Rita Moreno-George Chakiris GUYS AND DOLLS that opened there Tuesday night runs only through July 28.

Calling it the Moreno-Chakiris show is really an inaccuracy, for it is one of the most complete productions under the big red, white and blue top in a month of Tuesday nights. Runyon's Big Apple corps of characters as brought to life by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows and set to music by Frank Loesser remains as fascinating as they were when GUYS AND DOLLS began its 1,200 performance run on Broadway in 1950.

As Sexy as Ever

And Rita Moreno at 42 is as sexy and captivating – and a better actress – than she was all those (12) years ago when she and Chakiris captured Oscars for their teamwork in the movie WEST SIDE STORY. Chakiris, still slimly handsome and vibrant, carried off his Sky Masterson role with aplomb.

In supporting parts there was support aplenty: Robert Gorman, a splendid, low-fat Nicely-Nicely Johnson; and Patti Davis, a clear, strong-voiced Sarah Brown, the prim and proper Salvation Army lassie whose mission is well nigh impossible until Sky Masterson brings it down to earth.

There's a fine turn, too, by William Linton, whose comedic mannerisms as Nathan Detroit bear a striking resemblance to those of Alan King. Another good characterization is Joe Doody's Arvide Abernathy, whose tender "More I Cannot Wish You" was for me almost as much of a highlight as Gorman's show-stopping "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat."

Choreographer James Smock contributed greatly with some wiggly, high-kicking chorus line dancers for the girls from the Hot Box and an imaginative, energetic number for the men in the crap game sequence.

Some Flaws

There are improvements to be made: The solo singers generally are short on vocal power and should be more sure of microphone placement; some of director Stuart Bishop's props blocked too many sight lines – a more transparent newsstand would help a lot. And Tuesday night, the flickering strobe light ruined one of Smock's dances by flickering only briefly and dying. It was the only flaw in an otherwise excellent lighting job by James R. Riggs.

The show wears its maturity well. Lines such as "I hope you get stabbed by a Studebaker" evidently are funny even to those who have only a foggy notion what a Studebaker was.


Rich Richards as Benny Southstreet, Robert Gorman as Nicely-Nicely Johnson and Edmond Dante as Rusty Charlie sang a "Fugue for Tinhorns" at the start of GUYS AND DOLLS (1974). Clyde Miller as Lieutenant Brannigan is pictured at the far right.

GUYS AND DOLLS Clicks; Finest Work at Top

By Jay Joslyn, the Milwaukee Sentinel, Wednesday, July 17, 1974

Click! That's what the Melody Top's production of GUYS AND DOLLS does.

From the first notes of Frank Loesser's gutsy overture, the great piece of Americana becomes an example of theatrical clockwork that spins along with brilliant pacing.

Director-designer Stuart Bishop has been having a fine summer. But this show tops all that's gone before this season. This is real nostalgia – the kind that recalls the class of our youth.

Making the tight-knit story and driving music work is a good-looking, spirited cast that sounds and moves convincingly.

Heading the Runyonesque part of the company are William Linton, superb as the proprietor of the famed floating crap game, and Rita Moreno, delightfully bouncy as a psychosomatic chanteuse.

Taking care of the heartthrob department are the handsome George Chakiris as Sky Masterson, and lovely Patti Davis as the mission doll. They make a fine pair of singing lovers.

Everything is topflight in this production. Jan Valentine has collected a dazzling array of broad-brimmed fedoras for the guys and suitably sleazy gowns for the dolls, with special emphasis on the nightclub dollies.

Donald Yap has a solid-sounding band in the pit and he has whipped the chorus into fine shape.

GUYS AND DOLLS has entertained more than a generation of theatergoers. The edition being presented by Martin Wiviott is in the show's best tradition.


Hot Box Girls Tracy Friedman, B.J. Hanford, Didi Hitt, Nancy McCloud and Jo Jean Retrum performed "A Bushel and a Peck" in GUYS AND DOLLS (1974). Photo from the collection of Robb Alton and Didi Hitt (Kathleen Alton).

GUYS AND DOLLS Cast of Characters

Nicely-Nicely Johnson:Robert Gorman
Benny Southstreet:Rich Richards
Rusty Charlie:Edmond Dante
Sarah Brown:Patti Davis
Arvide Abernathy:Joe Dooley
Agatha:Donna Nowak
Harry the Horse:Zale Kessler
Lieutenant Brannigam:Clyde Miller
Nathan Detroit:William Linton
Angie the Ox:Robert Alton
Miss Adelaide:Rita Moreno
Sky Masterson:George Chakiris
Joey Biltmore:Clyde Laurents
General Matilda B. Cartwright:Chris Sallach
Big Jule:J.J. Johnston

Guys and Dolls: Robert Alton, Joan Carvelle, Ronny Cohen, Tracy Friedman, Alan Gilbert, B.J. Hanford, Marius Hanford, Didi Hitt, Nancy McCloud, Roy Neuner, Jo Jean Retrum, David Rupprecht, Susan Rush, Chris Sallach, Barry Thomas, Dan Webber, Tom Mula.

George Chakiris and Rita Moreno in Rehearsal for GUYS AND DOLLS.

George Chakiris (as Sky Masterson) and Rita Moreno (as Miss Adelaide), in rehearsal for GUYS AND DOLLS (1974) at the tent on Good Hope Road in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Rita Moreno as Miss Adelaide in GUYS AND DOLLS (1974).

Rita Moreno, in costume as Miss Adelaide, performing "A Bushel and a Peck" from GUYS AND DOLLS.

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