Guys and Dolls

Music and lyrics Frank Loesser, book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows based on Damon Runyon story and characters
Bridge Theatre

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Guys and Dolls Credit: Manuel Harlan
Andrew Richardson and Celinde Schoenmaker in Guys and Dolls Credit: Manuel Harlan
Marisha Wallace in Guys and Dolls Credit: Manuel Harlan
Daniel Mays in Guys and Dolls Credit: Manuel Harlan
Mark Oxtoby and Cecil Neal Credit: Manuel Harlan
Celinde Schoenmaker and Marisha Wallace in Guys and Dolls Credit: Manuel Harlan
Marisha Wallace in Guys and Dolls Credit: Manuel Harlan
Guys and Dolls Credit: Manuel Harlan
Guys and Dolls Credit: Manuel Harlan

In the past, director Nicholas Hytner has immersed Bridge Theatre audiences in the glens of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Rome of Julius Caesar and here we are in 1950s neon-lit Broadway.

Groundlings, or promenaders, amongst the action, herded by New York cops, swirl and interact with the cast and the ever-shifting hydraulic pop-up sidewalks with fire hydrants, street furniture, signage, cafes, barber shop, Sally Army Mission, Havana nightclub. Have I missed anything out? The crap game in the sewers…

The mosh pit groundlings are right in the midst of the buzz—they are the hustling, bustling city. I thankfully have a seat amongst the older generation. That’s what is so wonderful about Guys and Dolls: it crosses time and ages.

Rail strike, gridlock, rain, frayed tempers outside; inside colour, a brilliant orchestra under Tom Brady (the horns are great) and at least twenty hot numbers that set the feet tapping and the body swaying. Guys and Dolls is fail proof. However many times one sees it, it never fails with its Runyonesque sharp wit and local vernacular just made for music.

A very relaxed performance—easy to accommodate latecomers (many tonight)... I have a man singing along behind me, whilst down below people are having a ball that doesn't stop in the interval, when we are serenaded by a bar room quartet. The party continues after the end, cast joining in. You’d think they’d want to get home after a nearly three-hour high-energy show.

The cast is perfect. Marisha Wallace as Miss Adelaide holds the show together (and holds up the storyline with her cabaret numbers at the Hot Box, but no one is complaining), and as Nathan Detroit’s frustrated fiancée—fourteen years waiting to get married a running joke.

Daniel Mays, in apparently his first musical comedy, is loveable rascal Detroit, whilst his crap-shooting cronies, too many to mention, are the flavouring on the cake with their evocative names: Big Jule, Nicely-Nicely, Harry The Horse, Benny Southstreet and more.

Andrew Richardson, with his screen idol looks, is an understated Sky Masterson and Celinde Schoenmaker a sweet ‘Grace Kelly’ missionary Sarah Brown who falls for the honourable rogue. But, does she let rip after a drink or two or more. Her duet with Adelaide, “Marry The Man Today”, is a standout.

As is the gospel song “Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat”. It always is. This Nicely-Nicely (Cedric Neal in pleasing voice) reprises twice—in a nice interaction, he begs the orchestra for the second one. Don’t we just love these lying gangsters... And we seem to know the lyrics to the songs—absorbed by osmosis over the years. The one thing I didn't know all these years is that “A Bushel and A Peck” means “a lot”… Duh… There’s a glossary in the programme.

Two parallel love stories, one improbable, one delayed interminably—Adelaide has been telling her mother she is married and has five children with another on the way. Hopeful fantasies, and this show is nothing less, a feelgood musical comedy that puts a spring in our steps and warmth in our hearts.

The music numbers are great, and the dancing, though restricted by size of platforms (I think launchpad), is full of pizzazz, as you’d expect from Arlene Phillips and James Cousins. Adelaide has only six ‘debutantes’ performing alongside her at the Hot Box, but that doesn't lessen the impact. Their costume (Bunny Christie, Deborah Andrews) changes are spectacular. Paule Constable’s lighting strafes the set.

The male dancers in Havana are few but make up for that in gay abandon—George Ioannides stands out in his hot gay number with Sky. Richardson can dance—his credits include the Royal Ballet School. More of that please.

There’s lots of doubling, but the main remains—a tender love story. Low lives colliding with their opposites—both learn from each other. And who knew Sky Masterson knows his Bible better than Sarah Brown—a lovely touch. We’re with them all the way on a wave of good will. If only Nathan would commit.

Fabulous, small-scale but with a large heart, I’ll commit to that, Guys and Dolls (these days a bit sexist but whatever, autres temps autres moeurs) is a safe bet. The applause never stops. Well, it’s the beat and the pulse of the city.

Reviewer: Vera Liber

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