Watch Wayne W. Pretlow get up and sing "Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Boat" in "Guys and Dolls" and you think: Here's a man who knows the ice-cold fear of being put on the spot. Sitting uncomfortably with other gambling brethren in a church mission meeting, Pretlow, as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, is ordered to testify. And the gospel-tinged parable that he comes up with is not only one of tunesmith Frank Loesser's best-loved songs but, in Pretlow's hands (and feet), a moment when dancing, acting and singing swirl into an uplifting tidal force.
Movie buffs will undoubtedly see in Pretlow traces of Stubby Kaye, who played Nicely-Nicely both on Broadway and in the 1955 film. But Pretlow says he didn't study the film for inspiration. Instead, he drew on his own experiences growing up in the Baptist church in his hometown of Hartford, Conn.
"I know what it's like for the mission, with their convictions and strong belief in saving souls," he says. "I also know what it's like for the person who is ... how shall I say it ... sought after."
The irony is that when he's not onstage, Pretlow works as a motivational speaker. Unlike poor Nicely-Nicely, whose nerves show when he's first picked on, Pretlow says he's always able to think on his feet.
Of course, one of the biggest motivations in this case is having tap pro Maurice Hines, who stars as Nathan Detroit, sitting a few feet away. But Pretlow says he's not bothered by that. In fact, he says, Hines gave him some pointers.
"He said, `Go on out there and just stop the show.'"
Pretlow took that advice to heart.