Guys and Dolls

Nicholas Hytner’s “Guys and Dolls” continues to wow audiences with some cast changes. The Bridge Theatre is transformed into New York City where Bunny Christie’s innovative staging creates an immersive experience. The set is designed for some of the audience to walk around the floor, joining the hustle and bustle of the city, as stages rise and fall amongst us and neon lights glow above. Other spectators are seated on all sides of the auditorium watching in the round.

The contemporary staging is complemented by the original score, dialogue, period costumes and time frame. Based on Damon Runyon’s 1920s and 1930s short stories about a group of gangsters and gamblers from the New York underworld, “Guys and Dolls” was conceived as a musical comedy a couple of decades later. The well-known score including “Luck Be a Lady” and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” is considered a classic by musical theatre lovers who will flock to see it however it’s presented, but this new high energy event seems to be attracting a younger audience, which is great to see.

It was my second time at this production (first time sitting, this time standing) and whilst the new main cast aren’t as experienced as musical theatre power house Marisha Wallace and stalwart theatre and TV actor Daniel Mays (Miss Adelaide and Nathan Detroit respectively in the original cast), they are accomplished performers, singers and comedians. Owain Arthur is lovable as hapless rogue, Nathan Detroit. His relationship with longstanding fiancé Miss Adelaide (Timmika Ramsay) is playful and the actors make a good comedy double act, showcased in the duet “Sue Me”. Ramsay has impressive pipes and great timing making “Adelaide’s Lament” a highlight.

George Ioannides is smooth as the suave Sky Masterson and hits all the right notes in “Luck Be a Lady” and with Save-A-Soul Mission Sergeant Sarah Brown (Celinde Schoenmaker). The chemistry between Sky and Sarah crackles and we believe that the pious missionary would fall for the gambler’s charms. Schoenmaker (who continues from the original cast) brings the timeless glamour of a 1950s Hollywood movie star to this part and stood out for me as she did when I first saw it. Her beautiful melodic voice marinates the ballad, “I’ve Never Been in Love Before” in romance.

The choreography (Arlene Phillips and James Cousins) mixes old and new, peppering conventional musical theatre numbers with Beyonce moves. Standing on the floor, I felt like I was dancing the Salsa in a Havana night club, a scene that honours the original but brings a fresh perspective to a modern audience.

And then comes, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” with Jonathan Andrew Hume as Nicely-Nicely Johnson leading the “sinners” in a rousing rendition of the showstopper. This humorous up-tempo song that embodies the essence of a traditional show tune is infused with the fervour and spirit of gospel music. Hume, along with the band and ensemble work their magic and have the audience stomping their feet, clapping their hands and wanting more.

Guys and Dolls still packs a punch for a reason and this new way of experiencing it only adds to its pulling power. It has all the ingredients for a classic musical. Slick dance numbers, funny lines, romance, likeable characters, a good narrative and most importantly an incredible score which has stood the test of time. Perhaps some of the themes are a bit dated, but standing or sitting, it still rocks my boat!

This show was reviewed on the 11th March 2024 at the Bridge Theatre, London where it runs until the 31st August 2024.  Tickets available here: Guys & Dolls (bridgetheatre.co.uk)

Review written by Victoria Willetts

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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