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Many musical aficionados have seen the film version of “Guys and Dolls,” or perhaps a high school production, but very few have seen it performed as it was meant to be, with a full live orchestra. Light Opera Works’ last show of 2015 will change that, and with a conductor who has conducted more than enough large-scale productions.

“I did [Guys and Dolls] maybe fifteen years ago, and had sort of forgotten, but then I heard the scenes again and- it’s so well crafted,” says Shawn Stengel, conductor of the Light Opera Works production. “So well that even the worst high school production people still love. You can ruin it, but if you stay out of its way, it really works.”

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“The score is amazing; hit after hit after hit; oh there’s a famous one!”  said Stengel. “And then you get to ‘Luck Be a Lady…’”

Stengel, a veteran of the theatre scene in Chicago and across the country, has worked on Broadway scale productions, including as conductor of Chicago’s productions of “Wicked” and “Billy Elliot.” However, he’s still impressed with the power and work put into smaller productions.

“It’s interesting, this is my first time working at Light Opera Works. I definitely come from the Broadway musical theatre world. I’m doing this because I’ve known Rudy Hogenmiller for a lot of years. He called me last year, and I said ‘I love that show, and I would love to do it with the 24-piece orchestra, to play the full score out loud.’”

There are significant differences between the Broadway world and the Chicago theatre scene. “The actors [at Light Opera Works] are almost all non-equity, so a non-union show means they have to keep their day jobs, so we rehearse usually at night,” explained Stengel. “And when I do a show at Drury Lane or Paramount, we rehearse nine to five for two and a half weeks. So that’s much more concentrated in that sense.” 

“The rhythm of this is different, it comes together slowly- but there’s time to breathe in this. Normally you don’t have time to make changes or adjustments because you just need to do it. But here I have time to listen.”

“I’ve done a lot of regional stuff, so the work is the work. It doesn’t matter too much where it is, you still have to do the same work. You have to dig into the show, collaborate, make the people you have right there do the best they can. So it doesn’t matter if it’s “Billy Elliot,” little 12-year-old genius boys, or the cast of “Guys and Dolls” at Light Opera Works, hoping to be equity some day. You do the work for its own sense of achievement, of getting your own take on it.”

Stengel’s work in this production is in the details. “You know, there’s a tendency in theatre today to think that the music has to be interpreted, and not to sing the thing that is written- and if you do that you’re acting better,” says Stengel. “No; you have to approach it like people are going to hear this once. Really honor the material by doing it like they wrote it. I’m loath to change things unless we’ve got a really good reason. Not that it’s a museum piece, but you have to look hard and say, this stuff is really good.”

“I try to enjoy each show I’m on,” says Stengel. “I like when I can at least voice my opinion. The tradeoff with the “Wicked’s” of the world is that you’re in a big corporate world. Like, I don’t have any creative say in this, it’s a beautiful production and a really nice paycheck, people are impressed that you’re doing it, but you really have no creative input at all.”

“I like the ones where I feel like I’ve helped put it in place. It’s cool to see a big Broadway show from the other side, but it’s fun to do local Chicago stuff that’s not as big, that you feel you have a bigger impact on.”

“Guys and Dolls” runs at Light Opera Works from December 26 through January 3. For tickets, call (847) 920-5360 or visit www.LightOperaWorks.com. 

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