Estancia High School drama department cast members Danielle Ridge, left, and Axel Lomas rehearse a scene Monday night from "Guys & Dolls" at the Robert B. Wentz Theatre. The show opens Thursday. (DON LEACH / March 5, 2013)

In those hectic days, hours and minutes before opening night, it's time to "either laugh or cry."

So says Pauline Maranian, director of Estancia High School's upcoming musical theater production of "Guys & Dolls," which opens Thursday for a three-night run at the Robert B. Wentz Theatre at Newport Harbor High School.

At the beginning of Monday's rehearsal, Maranian, an Estancia teacher since 1996, calmly held her dog Hamlet backstage as throngs of students prepped themselves for the evening.

"It's been a massive, massive undertaking," she said, "and I just want to thank everybody involved."

She called "Guys & Dolls," a stage classic since its Broadway premiere in 1950, a "happy show that you just can't help but smile at. "It's the story of gambling, love and plenty of mischief set in New York and Havana.

About 50 student cast and crew are involved, as are some dozen parent volunteers and Hamlet. The temperate "poodle-something" is something of a stage veteran. "Guys & Dolls" marks his fourth show with a walk-on role.

It's also Estancia's first time using Harbor's theater since its renovation. With the new territory comes a whole new set of challenges, said stage manager Emily VanDegrift.

The 17-year-old senior, dressed Monday night in her tech blacks, held a box of cell phones — a menial task compared to her others, like set transitions, giving cues for lighting and managing Estancia's production army.

She's Maranian's "right-hand woman," but she's the one who runs the show once it starts.

"It's really been a great opportunity," Emily said with a smile. "It really lets me flow creatively, because I get to change everything backstage. I help with the set designing. I help Miss M with where things go. It's a great outlet for me."

She plans to attend Orange Coast College to study theater technology, with a long-term goal of studying meteorology.

"Guys & Dolls" is Danielle Ridge's third musical production. The 17-year-old senior, who plays Adelaide, has been accepted to Pepperdine University, her first school choice.

She loves theater and would love to be on Broadway.

"It would also be an honor to be in a film," Danielle said. "I'm hoping something, something. I'll do anything!"

Axel Lomas, a 17-year-old senior who hopes to attend Sonoma State, plays Nathan Detroit, Adelaide's long-term fiancé — long term as in 14 years.

Axel likes that Nathan isn't so serious, unlike the character's main counterpart, Sky Masterson.

And what of his often-bickering relationship with Adelaide, especially compared to Sky's?

"It's a little bit more honest," he said with a laugh.

Maren McClanahan, president of Estancia's drama club, plays one of the "hot box girls." She said "Guys & Dolls" has brought out a love of dance in her.

"It's changed a lot of who I am, my perception of myself," Maren said. "It's really cool what theater does to people: bring out a whole other side of you that you really didn't know you had."