Review: Nicholas Hytner’s ‘Guys and Dolls’ Finds New Depths

Nicholas Hytner’s heartbreaking ambulatory staging, at the Bridge Theater in London, finds new depths in the classic Broadway musical.

“Guys and Dolls” is surely one of the most beloved Broadway musicals in London, where it resurfaces every decade or so to beguile audiences with its treasurable humor and wit. The difference this time, in Nicholas Hytner’s joyous new production, which opened Tuesday at the Bridge Theater, is that the show courses with a degree of feeling not always found in this story of two male “no-goodniks” and the women who love them. That warmth transforms Frank Loesser’s 1950 classic into something as touching as it is tuneful: You leave humming, and with a full heart.

This first-ever musical at the Bridge theater, which opened in 2017, is also Hytner’s first London musical in 30 years. And like his last one, “Carousel,” this “Guys and Dolls” is sure to be a smash hit.

Many will know the story, adapted from Damon Runyon: The nightclub singer Miss Adelaide (Marisha Wallace) wants to make a husband of her fiancé of 14 years, Nathan Detroit (Daniel Mays). Similarly domestic thoughts come to obsess the prim Sister Sarah (Celinde Schoenmaker), who falls hard for the smooth-talking gambler, Sky Masterson (Andrew Richardson).

Celinde Schoenmaker, left, as Sister Sarah, and Marisha Wallace, as Miss Adelaide.Manuel Harlan

At the Bridge, 400 or so playgoers per performance have the opportunity to follow these characters’ paths to the altar, quite literally. The seats have been removed from the orchestra level and the action unfolds across hydraulic platforms that rise up from beneath the stage floor. Those who would prefer not to spend nearly three hours on their feet can occupy tiered seating that encircles the auditorium.

Hytner has tried this immersive approach before, with Shakespeare, and the concept turns out equally well-suited to this self-described “musical fable of Broadway,” with its inimitable book by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows. The designer Bunny Christie offers the neon-filled landscape of a bygone Times Square, and crew members dressed as police officers are there to keep spectators out of the way of the flexible sets, and the performers.

Yet proximity to the cast would mean nothing if the actors didn’t deliver. And it’s here that Hytner really scores, fielding a company of players — including several newcomers to musical theater — that mines the twin love affairs on view for all their emotional heft. They sing splendidly, and break your heart, too.

I’ve not seen a “Guys and Dolls” that gives its central quartet such equal weight. It’s tempting to think of Sister Sarah in the shadow of the audience-grabbing Miss Adelaide, the singer — and stripper — who has been pretending for years to her unseen mother that she and Nathan are married.

But Schoenmaker’s golden-voiced Sarah suggests a devil-fearing member of the Save-a-Soul Mission Band whose resolve looks ready to crack in the face of the right guy — which Sky turns out to be. Making his professional theater debut in that role, the dusky-voiced Richardson is a real find.

As Miss Adelaide, Wallace avoids caricature, coupling robust comedy with the sense of an aching heart and bringing her roof-raising vocals to her character’s famously adenoidal “Lament.” But you also sense the mounting annoyance she feels toward the rapscallion Nathan, who won’t be easily weaned from rolling dice and shooting craps.

Andrew Richardson, as Sky Masterson, and Schoenmaker.Manuel Harlan

Adelaide and her dancers from the Hot Box stop the show with the second-act “Take Back Your Mink,” which the choreographers Arlene Phillips and James Cousins turn into a dizzying striptease. Yet you feel this Adelaide laying bare a depth of affection for Nathan that makes something momentous of their climactic duet, “Sue Me.” Mays, a TV and film name irresistibly cast as Nathan, brings a sure voice and even surer comic timing to the role, which he plays as a streetwise commitment-phobe who is essentially a softie.

The score, orchestrated by Charlie Rosen, sounds great as performed by a 14-piece swing band perched above the action, lending a party feel to the proceedings, in which the audience joins a conga line with the cast (on the night I attended, at least).

The ensemble numbers come roaring to life, with Cedric Neal’s sweet-faced Nicely-Nicely Johnson leading “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” to three encores. He is surveyed from above by the band leader, Tom Brady, who surveys the tidal pull of the song in mock-disapproval; after all, we can’t be there all night.

But the evening is nowhere more affecting than in the plaintive solo number, “More I Cannot Wish You,” in which the kindly Arvide Abernathy (Anthony O’Donnell) wishes his granddaughter, Sarah, the experience of love that she has denied herself. There’s nothing I could wish more for theatergoers than to experience this “Guys and Dolls” for themselves.

Guys and Dolls

Through Sept. 2 at the Bridge Theater, in London;

Source: Theater -


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