Broadway’s best musical, Frank Loesser’s witty tale of New York idlers tamed by women too good for them, gets a near-flawless revival in this enthralling production by Nicholas Hytner.
The casting of the four leads is spot on, with Marisha Wallace standing out with her powerful voice and perfect comedic timing as Miss Adelaide, the scantily clad club singer who just wants to get married. Seriously, she gives her all the rewards right away.
Subtitled “a Broadway musical fairy tale,” Guys & Dolls is a carefully constructed juxtaposition of god gamblers and hecklers, cunning and sweetheart, comedy and romance. Wallace’s verve is duly balanced by the loose coolness and clarity of Celinde Schoenmaker’s missionary Sarah Brown.
Similarly, the perpetual anxiety of Daniel Mays as Adelaide’s eternal betrothed, Nathan Detroit (14 years engaged and counting!) contrasts with the understated, melodious suavity of handsome Andrew Richardson, who makes his theater debut. professional stage as Sky Masterson.
While you can buy a seat, I highly recommend a ticket for the walk that pits you against the action. Blocks of scenery dotted by designer Bunny Christie with fire hydrants, barber chairs and payphones rise from the floor: neon signs and traffic lights descend from the ceiling.
Hytner drives the action around this ever-changing configuration of areas and levels like a tidal vortex: everyone gets a close-up view at ringside at some point; Richardson sang a couple of lines from Luck, Be a Lady directly to my wife. At the end the stage management team takes a well-deserved bow.
The choreography, by Arlene Phillips and James Cousins, in these narrow and elevated spaces is amazing. Miss Adelaide’s Hot Box dancers are the most pneumatic she’s ever seen, and the brawl-turned-party that engulfs Sky and Sarah on a Havana dance floor is a tightly orchestrated piece of mayhem. That scene takes place in a gay club, by the way, a sly hint that it might not be just cards and dice that distract Sky from the “dolls.”
There are many nice details like this: Terpsikorean echoes of Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain routine in Sarah’s swooning If I Were a Bell; the way she unknowingly undoes the buttons on her uniform or maiden dress when she’s with Sky.
Adelaide and Nathan’s possible breakup song, Sue Me, is accompanied by alternating Walk/Don’t Walk street signs; Adelaide’s cotton-candy hair, cherry-red dress and sparkly underwear in Take Back Your Mink reference another hottie, Marilyn Monroe, singing Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.
The lush romantic ballads – I’ll Know, I’ve Never Been in Love Before – are delivered with impeccable phrasing and feeling by Richardson and Schoenmaker but Marry the Man today, of the two female leads, is undoubtedly the stronger duet with the its pair -heavy chorus, influenced by klezmer. Cedric Neal adds pristine gospel vibrato to the built-in showstopper Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.
Hytner and his cast pay as much attention to Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows’ dry, comedic script as they do to Loesser’s score and lyrics. “I’ll be great in the kitchen,” promises Adelaide. “Tried all the other rooms.” The suits and dresses between the wars are gorgeous. I cannot stress enough the meticulousness and care that has gone into every aspect of this show. Blessed and uplifting.
Bridge Theaterto 2 September; bridgetheatre.co.uk