Guys & Dolls - Bridge Theatre
The soul-saving musical gets the immersive Bridge treatment
Theatre is at its best when it is evolving and pushing boundaries, daring to try something thrilling in order to develop the best possible production for its audiences. This is one of those shows. Nicholas Hytner and co have delivered Broadway’s streets to London in a masterful example of design, music and performance compounded with the signature Bridge Theatre immersive style. A complete and utter triumph.
Guys & Dolls sees Nathan Detroit under pressure to find a new place to host his infamous floating craps game, but with the city’s cops bearing down options are limited and remaining venues come with a hefty upfront fee. As a way to raise the funds, he challenges gambler Sky Masterson that he can’t take Sister Sarah Brown, leader of the Save a Soul Mission, to dinner in Havana, Cuba - a bet he surely can’t lose. All whilst his long-suffering fiancé of 14 years, Hotbox performer Adelaide, is determined to finally tie the knot, convinced that she can make a good man of him yet.
Frank Loesser’s 1950 classic is more alive than ever in the gig-like setting, with smoking arrangements from musical supervisor Tom Brady. The tale of underground 1920s gamblers on the streets of New York and the women determined to change them is a timeless one, heartache and redemption at its core but in this unique staging, the audience is brought along with the story like never before. Sections of stage gracefully rise and fall amongst us to elevate the cast above the crowd, swiftly rotating the story around the space and injecting natural dynamism into the production. The atmosphere in the standing area is simply electric - the musical theatre equivalent to being at the barrier for your favourite pop star. We form part of the story in a way I have never experienced before, onlookers yes, but this is exclusively intimate - impossible to recreate in a traditional theatre.
Daniel Mays makes for a wonderfully wheedling Nathan Detroit, willing to do anything to keep himself and his craps game afloat. Mays has lip-smacking charm and fiery chemistry with on-stage fiancé Adelaide (Marisha Wallace). Wallace is a born leading lady, teasing the crowd as she performs her HotBox numbers, dressed in outstanding costumes designed by Bunny Christie and Deborah Andrews. Wallace’s vocals, a sensation in their own right, are note-perfect, particularly divine during the number ‘Adelaide’s Lament’ as she despairs over the psychosomatic effects of a lengthy engagement resulting in her having a persistent cold. When paired with Celinde Schoenmaker’s Sarah Brown in the song ‘Marry the Man Today’ they are on fire. Each able to find depth in their love for troubled men and determination to do right by them - so impressive as often these classic musicals lack proper characterisation for the female roles.
Schoenmaker is delightful as Sarah Brown, forming a decisive contrast to the sinners, tempted by a romance at odds with the one she had dreamed of. Her multiple duets with Andrew Richardson (Sky Masterson) are elegant and authentic, forming a rare stillness in the chaos of the city streets. Richardson equally shines during his performance of ‘Luck Be a Lady,’ a hair-raising, carefully choreographed number in the sewers of New York. A standout performance from Cedric Neal as Nicely-Nicely Johnson ensures this is a night to remember. Already well known for his vocal prowess from his previous credits, Neal spoils us with an impeccable and rousing rendition of ‘Sit Down You’re Rockin’ the Boat’ complete with multiple playful encores. A moment of musical theatre bliss in which all souls were saved.
Spectacular design is consistent in every aspect of this production. Paul Arditti’s sound design is crisp and enchanting, inviting us into the underbelly of New York City from the moment we enter the space. Neon signs hang above the set, adding to the sense of place and forming a stylish backdrop to the proceedings. Lighting from Paule Constable is exciting, impressively adapting to the challenges posed by the staging, meaning that this piece has the power to instantaneously transport us out of the city gutter to the Havana coastline when required. The creative output is beautifully cohesive, leaving no weak link in the chain - Hytner’s vision has been realised in astonishing fashion.
Special credit must be given to the stage management, stage crew and ushers who are seamlessly choreographed to ensure the audience’s safety amongst the soaring set whilst delivering further scenery to the performance area, including bars, manholes and even lampposts. The technical undertaking is a marvel to witness and the team rightfully are given their moment in the bows.
This is the first musical staged at The Bridge Theatre since it opened in 2017, but productions of this calibre and ingenious design are surely what a modern, versatile space like this is destined for. This is more than a must-see show, it is one that will be discussed and revered for years to come - pure musical theatre joy.
Currently booking till 2 September - Tickets
Photography - Manuel Harlan
Originally published by London Theatre Reviews