Guys & Dolls Review – Bridge Theatre, London

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Guys & Dolls Review – Bridge Theatre, London

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a look at the must-see shows in London right now. And we’re starting with the show that won the 2023 Evening Standard Theatre Award for Best Musical last night; the classic Guys & Dolls, reinvented for an immersive experience by Nicholas Hytner.

Guys & Dolls Review

Based on the story and characters of Damon Runyon, Frank Loesser’s 1950 musical comedy Guys & Dolls is something of a musical fable about New York City itself and Bunny Christie’s superb set puts the audience at the heart of the city – almost literally. Nicholas Hytner’s immersive production sees the action happen amongst standing audience members who are cleverly moved into position by the NYPD as activity swirls around them.

It’s the 1950’s and Nathan Detroit (Daniel Mays) has been permanently engaged to Hot Box Club entertainer Miss Adelaide (Marisha Wallace) while making his living running illegal crap games around New York. But local police, led by Lieutenant Brannigan (Cornelius Clarke), have been making it harder to find locations for the game to take place. The owner of the only venue willing to take the risk wants $1,000 upfront and Detroit is broke.

Celinde Schoenmaker and Marisha Wallace. Photo: Manuel Harlan

However, renowned gambler Sky Masterson (played in this performance by cover Jack Butterworth, usually performed by George Ioannides) has just arrived in town. In an attempt to get the money he needs to secure the location, Detroit makes a bet against Masterson – one he thinks he cannot lose: Masterson must convince the woman of Detroit’s choosing to dinner in Havana, Cuba. Detroit chooses the antithesis of everything Masterson is: Sergeant Sarah Brown (Celinde Schoenmaker) of the Save-a-Soul Mission.

Wallace and Schoenmaker are the musical stars here. Wallace is utterly sensational as the lovelorn Miss Adelaide in a hilarious performance that still makes you feel for the character – but it is her power vocals that truly steal the show. Schoenmaker meanwhile brings calm and measure to the prim Sarah Brown which seems to seep out of her classic singing style, but she also brings the right amount of comedy nous and is most entertaining when allowing her character to let loose and unwind in Havana.

In this intertwined love story, there isn’t quite a romantic click between Mays and Wallace – which feels like the point, given their fourteen-year engagement – but there is something loveable in their comic double-act. Schoenmaker and Butterworth bring a competitive edge to their interactions and are entirely convincing as the couple. There are also strong performances throughout the supporting cast including Anthony O’Donnell as Arvide Abernathy and Mark Oxtoby as Benny Southstreet.

But what puts this a cut above other productions is Hytner’s immersive approach (seats above the action in the galleries are also available) which brings together the singing, the acting, and the dancing (choreography by Arlene Phillips with James Cousins) and ties it all together with Christies wonderful set so that you truly feel like you’re in the heart of the action. You’re in the hustle and bustle of the city, sweating in the crap games, dancing in Havana, having a drink in the Hot Box Club listening to Miss Adelaide, and falling in and out of love with these guys and dolls in New York City.

Guys & Dolls is at the Bridge Theatre, London and is currently booking to 31 August 2024.

What happened to star-ratings? Read the editorial now to find out why we’re no longer providing star-ratings for most productions.