Romantic comedys leading man answers questions about show

by: COURTESY PHOTO - James Grimes plays Sky Masterson and Carly Wasserstein plays Sarah Brown in TITGs production of Guys & Dolls.Theatre in the Grove’s newest production, “Guys & Dolls,” premieres Friday night.

Directed by TITG veteran Darren Hurley and set in Damon Runyon’s mythical New York City, this oddball romantic comedy — considered by many to be the perfect musical comedy — soars with the spirit of Broadway as it introduces audiences to a cast of vivid characters who have become legends in the canon.

The News-Times caught up with the cast’s James Grimes, who plays Sky Masterson, the slick, high-rolling gambler who woos Sarah Brown — the uptight but lovable female star — on a bet and ends up falling in love.

Q: What character do you play? What do you like about this character? How do you relate to him? What methods to do you use to get into character?

A: I play the role of Sky Masterson, a nomadic professional gambler who roams from place to place looking for action. He has planted no roots to speak of and desires none (so he thinks). Always the outsider, he approaches everything and everyone with an air of confidence that instantly puts him in the driver’s seat of any situation. Sky’s confidence is illusionary, of course. He realizes what his life is missing once he comes face to face with her: Sarah Brown, someone who challenges him to be a better person than he thinks he is.

Personally, I relate to Sky’s life as someone who gets along with everyone yet exposes his true nature to almost no one. Just as with Sky, there are people who see me and think I am much more confident than I really am.

I should note that “Guys and Dolls” was the first show I ever did back in high school, so it is a 27-year-long dream come true to get to play Sky Masterson.

The transformation into a character is one I approach from the inside out. I try to think like that character would; this makes me move and talk and react like that character. Unlike a method actor, I typically turn this character on and off at will (although, sometimes my character’s personality will color my own a little during the run of the show).

Truth of character lies in the physical projection of thought and emotion, not just the words that are said.

Q: What do you think is the most important message in this play? What do you want viewers to take away, if you could only choose one thing?

A: First and foremost, the audience should remember this is a classic musical comedy, a genre not necessarily fraught with high-minded ideals or morality lessons. This is a medium meant to entertain, and that it does. And although on the surface “Guys and Dolls” appears to revel in male/female stereotypes, the characters are so lovingly drawn I believe they are deeper than that.

The male characters eschew change to maintain a lifestyle they understand and enjoy. The female characters want the men to change into something that fits their romanticized visions of men of worth. Neither side is willing to budge. In the end, they all find that there is room to meet in the middle. Change does not have to be painful. In fact, it can be refreshing. I think they discover that if a relationship demonstrates honor and loyalty, it can make it through the rough spots.

Q: What’s your favorite scene and why?

A: There is a scene in which Sky shares his love of the city in the wee hours of the morning with Sara Brown, a missionary and his love interest, in a song called “My Time of Day.” He describes everything with a sense of peacefulness and fulfillment that you might think he’s describing a church. And in a way, it is his church, a place for reflection and spirituality. When he finishes, he realizes that he has bared his soul to another for the first time, and he likes it.

I have a thing for underdogs, and this song is a bit of an underdog in the play. It tends to be a song that many don’t even remember by the end of the show. I’m hoping that my performance of it will convert at least a few people to feel as I do about it.

Q: What’s been your fondest memory of being in this play so far?

A: Making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. As with many shows, the cast gets to be like a family by the end of a production. This cast is no different. When a show comes to an end, we always miss the production, but it’s the people that we end up missing the most. There are people in this musical, like myself, who have been performing on stage for a long time — 20, 30, 40-some years. There are others who are going to be on stage for their very first time ever. But right now, we are all in this play together putting together a show that will entertain and move an audience. We are building memories and friendships that will continue to live on for decades.

Q: What is the most challenging thing about this play, your role and rehearsals?

A: Some of the music of “Guys and Dolls” is deceptively difficult to perform. I think our cast has done an excellent job of rising to that challenge, though. It helps that we have an orchestra that works so hard to make the whole show sound so good.

The most challenging part for me has been playing a character who could be easily portrayed as two-dimensional if I’m not careful. I have seen productions where Sky has been rather flat. However, I believe I have found some textures in his personality that I hope bring him to life and make him as endearing to the audience as I find him. It helps that I get to play him opposite Carly Wasserstein, an actress who plays Sarah Brown with such skill and craft.

The challenging part of rehearsals is time. Most of the cast has day jobs or families they are raising. We work eight to ten hours or more during the day then arrive at the theater in the evening for three hours of rehearsal. It can be draining, yet exhilarating at the same time.

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