Re-review: Guys and Dolls, Bridge Theatre

A cast change breathes a wonderful new sense of life into Nicholas Hytner’s superb production of Guys and Dolls at the Bridge Theatre

“Call it dumb, call it clever
Ah, but you can get odds forever”

When the Bridge Theatre opened back in 2017, it was with the promise of “commissioning and production of new shows, as well as staging the occasional classic” but having found themselves a solid gold hit with Nicholas Hytner’s immersive production of all-time classic musical Guys and Dolls, understandably they’ve switched the model – for now at least – to let it run and run. The show opened a year ago to great acclaim and with a major cast change having just taken place, we were invited back for another roll of the dice.

With Olivier award nominations raining down (albeit with the strange and sad exclusion of Celinde Schoenmaker’s Sarah Brown), audiences might feel a little disappointed to be missing out on those names, particularly if Marisha Wallace’s appearance on Celebrity Big Brother taps into a new demographic who want to see what a striking performer she can be. But the great news is that this new company bring a new energy to their roles that hits differently (and, whisper it quietly) which I might actually have enjoyed more.

Schoenmaker remains with the show, her vocal prowess in this legit soprano role really so very impressive. Georges Ioannides is a wonderfully laid-back and charismatic Sky Masterson, having replaced Andrew Richardson a few months ago. Owain Arthur steps into the shoes of Daniel Mays as a newly endearing Nathan Detroit. Timmika Ramsay takes over top billing at the Hot Box from the aforementioned Wallace with a pleasing confidence. And Jonathan Andrew Hume has the unenviable task of following from consummate showman Cedric Neal as Nicely-Nicely Johnson.

But in finding their own way into these characters and bringing their own strengths, there’s a greater coherence to the company that emphasises an ensemble feel which suits the production so well. Wallace’s outrageous talent often stole the show previously but Ramsay feels much more organically connected to this world. She’s top billing at the cabaret but she feels like one of the girls done good, her chemistry with Arthur’s bumbling Nathan feels so more credible in the affection that neither can hide from each other.

Similarly, Hume reaps the benefits of dialling back just a little of the flair to find a different sense of authenticity to the explosive rapture that is ‘Sit Down, You’re Rocking the Boat’ as it seems to come from nowhere. He still takes it to church, just a different one! Arlene Phillips’ choreography, created with James Cousins, remains a masterclass here in the constrained space available. Overall, it is still a bit of a bugbear that the production can’t let that choreo leap and bound as expansively as it could due to the staging.

But what staging it is by Bunny Christie, a series of platforms rising and falling as the world of mid 20th century New York is evoked from pretzel stands to seedy bars and clubs and even a sojourn in the sewers. Audiences get to pick whether to sit in the round or immerse themselves with standing on the floor (the efficiency of the stage management crew in facilitating the many set changes whilst also shepherding the crowd is seriously impressive) and whilst you might look at that running time a tad askance, it simply flies by in a haze of musical theatre excellence.

Tom Brady’s musical direction of The Tommy Entrata Orchestra delivers hit after hit from Frank Loesser’s peerless score. The costumes from Christie and Deborah Andrews are a vision of gorgeous tailoring and glittering surprise. Paule Constable’s lighting revels in the ever-changing opportunities to shape the playing space. Ultimately it feels no surprise that this show has lasted a year and with the new energy brought by the way this whole company now comes together, you wouldn’t bet against it lasting at least another more.

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