Leslie Margherita, Matthew Saldivar Are Perfectly in Tune With Pittsburgh CLO’s ‘Guys & Dolls’


In the midst of their whirlwind rehearsal schedule, Leslie Margherita and Matthew Saldivar – Pittsburgh CLO‘s Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit – were on the phone, talking about their experiences with that most perfect of American musicals, Guys & Dolls

After our chat and a quick bite to eat on Friday, both would be headed to the Benedum Center stage for the first time, readying the show for opening on Tuesday.  

Margherita had played Adelaide, the true-blue chorus girl with the sniffles, in Bucks County, PA (2017) and Sacramento, Calif. (2019.) In October of last year, Saldivar had been part of an all-star Guys & Dolls at the Kennedy Center, as Nathan’s sidekick, Benny Southstreet. Now he would be playing Nathan – Adelaide’s marriage-phobic beau and the man responsible for “The Oldest Established (Permanent Floating Crap Game in New York).”

So you’d assume that Saldivar’s first thoughts would be of that recent memory, right? Don’t bet on it.

Lesli Margherita and Matthew Saldivar play Adelaide and Nathan Detroit in Pittsburgh CLO’s Guys & Dolls, opening August 8.

“This is one of my favorite stories now,” Saldivar began, telling of the time that he was in ninth grade, being “dragged” by a friend to a school production of Guys & Dolls. Growing up in West Point, N.Y., school musicals were not in his frame of reference.

“So the curtain went up on Guys & Dolls, and it was absolutely wonderful. And I was like, ‘What, where was this happening? Why didn’t anybody tell me? This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen!’ And so ever since I was 14, I’ve wanted to be in a production of Guys & Dolls, and it was only last fall that I was in my first production. So it was a great, great joy, and now I’m super lucky to come back, and to play Nathan.”

Margherita, who starred as Mrs. Wormwood in Broadway’s Matilda the Musical, and Saldivar are making their Pittsburgh CLO debuts. Margherita had not heard Saldivar’s story before – in fact, they agree that it seems odd to most people, including them, that neither has run into each other before now, when you consider their long and wide-ranging list of theater credits.

For her Olivier Award-winning performance in the West End production of Zorro: The Musical, Margherita won raves from the UK press as the vampy, campy Inez. London’s Daily Express exclaimed, “The scene stealer is the exciting and magnificent Lesli Margherita. She powers her way round the stage, vibrant with energy, passion and much more drama. Here is a star to watch!”

Guys & Dolls, with characters inspired by Damon Runyon’s 1920s tales of New York City mobsters, hustlers and chorus girls, includes the missionaries who would have them repent their ways and save their souls.

One of the ways Guys & Dolls holds up even today, besides the rich characters and tuneful Frank Loesser songs, is the women who hold sway with the men who love them.

When we meet Adelaide, she has had it with Nathan after a 14-year engagement, and Sister Sarah Brown, sergeant of a NYC mission, falls in love while trying to convert a bunch of inveterate sinners, including the notorious gambler and playboy Sky Masterson. 

Married couple Nikki Renee Daniels and Jeff Kready (CLO’s Tommy in Brigadoon, 2019), with more than a dozen Broadway credits between them, play Sky and Sister for Pittsburgh CLO. John Treacy Egan (Nicely-Nicely) previously staarred for Pittsburgh CLO in The Producers.

“I think a lot of these older shows, now when you see them, you really have to change some things, because they are just so antiquated,” Margherita said. ‘But this is probably one of the only shows that I can think of from that time period that the women were holding all the cards. It’s  really female forward. I love both of these lead women ’cause they’re so different, but they’re so strong. … It’s empowering for females, this show.”

Her favorite song is “Marry the Man Today,” a pact between the women on how to handle a man.“

“It is that thing of these two women having this hysterical, very strong conversation of how they’re going to run their men,” Margherita said with a laugh. “And there aren’t that many shows that have these great numbers for two women, and it’s so smart and so fun. And that’s my favorite, but, I mean, I love this whole show. It’s a blast.”

In Guys & Dolls, it is the men who make changes to seal their relationships – not something you often associate with circa-1920s New York gambling crowd.

Sky Masterson shows his cards – and his feelings – with an infamous bet that results in the American Songbook stalwart Luck By a Lady. The ladies of Guys & Dolls, in general, are treated with respect.“

The guys, they have their own codes of ethics and formality and a kind of graciousness,” Saldivar said of the colorful characters who populate the city streets and secret gambling dens. “And of course, they’re kind of clowns in the way that they do it. … It’s kind of a chivalric sensibility of like, [there are certain things that] simply are not done. That’s not the way you behave.”

Among many Broadway credits, Saldivar played Kenickie in the long-running 2007 revival of Grease, and he was a replacement for Christian Borle as the Black Stashe in Peter and the Starcatcher. Among Margherita’s credits you will find originating the role of raunchy grown-up Cindy Lou Who in Matthew Lombardo’s Who’s Holiday!

In describing the show, The New York Times review declared, “More happens, but it is almost besides this hourlong production’s point, which is to watch the brassy, very funny Ms. Margherita strut her stuff …”

Who’s Holiday” had days earlier been announced as a CLO Cabaret holiday offering.

“I just saw that!,” Margherita said, laughing. “I told my husband, and he goes, ‘Oh, really? During the holidays?’  But it must be a total coincidence. I love it so much and I think it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, so I’m looking forward to someone else kind of taking the reins on that [she laughs]. But I’m really happy that they’re doing it.”

Before it was time to get back to rehearsal, it also was time to get back to Guys & Dolls, and why it is commonplace to hear it described as “the perfect musical.”

“I sound so old saying this, but they don’t write ’em like this anymore. They really don’t,” Margherita said. “It’s beautiful. It’s really held up. I don’t find it to be dated, even though it’s such a love letter to that time. I just, it’s perfect. I’m on board with whoever says that.”“

And I agree wholeheartedly,” Saldivar said, “as  evidenced by how I responded to it in my high school at age 14. Then you see it done by the great professionals, and it kind of pays off in similar ways because it’s such a well-constructed piece.”

With a book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows based on Runyon’s short stories – “like a dream of New York,” said Saldivar – the 1950 musical won five Tony Awards, including best musical and director (Pittsburgh native George S. Kaufman), and one for actor Robert Alda, Alan’s dad, as Sky Masterson.

From the first notes by the CLO Orchestra, the music will be familiar to so many theater fans. But for some, like 14-year-old Matthew, the irresistible score and romance will illustrate why Guys & Dolls has been a Broadway and regional favorite since its debut. 

“My favorite part of the show, with a Golden Age show like this, is just the overture,” Saldivar concluded. “The feeling when the orchestra starts is so wonderful, so thrilling. With the orchestra here, and the theater, and the caliber of production being as it is, when you hear that downbeat, you know it’s gonna be a great night.”


Pittsburgh CLO’s production of Guys & Dolls is at the Benedum Center, Downtown, August 8-13. Visit https://www.pittsburghclo.org/shows/guys-dolls or call 412-456-6666. This is CLO’s seventh Guys & Dolls and penultimate production of the 2023 summer season, which ends with Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, August 22-27.

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