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4th June 2023

Review: Guys & Dolls

The Bridge Theatre’s Guys & Dolls is an immersive, in-the-round, roaring revival of a Broadway classic
Review: Guys & Dolls
The company. Photo: Manuel Harlan

It’s becoming the norm for classic musicals to not merely be revived but, rather, reimagined or, at the very least, redesigned. I was invited to see three revived musicals in London this week, and all three of them have mixed things up. Oklahoma!, traditionally a feel-good musical, honed in on the dark aspects that lie beneath, whilst Once on This Island, a colourful Caribbean-set musical, has taken a minimalistic approach.

Then there’s Guys & Dolls, one of the most iconic musicals of all time – albeit dated. For me to enjoy a classic (whether a musical or Shakespeare), it needs to be updated in some way or another; the creatives need to find a way to give the musical relevance – all whilst maintaining the nostalgia.

A few years back, the Royal Exchange, an in-the-round theatre, revived Guys & Dolls with an all-black cast. Whilst jazz, like many mainstream music genres, was invented by Black folk, Guys & Dolls is one of the Whitest musicals of all. Whilst this production was a pretty straightforward adaptation, the casting was bold and refreshing – and it allowed Black folk to reclaim a genre they invented.

As much as I enjoyed that adaptation, I had not been too fussed about seeing the revival at the Bridge Theatre, for I’m not all too fond of the musical’s dated book, and I’d already seen an all-Black adaptation – how can you possibly top that?

But then I saw photos of the set and read the flurry of five-star reviews. It’s so rare for a musical to be universally acclaimed these days but everybody – critics and audiences alike – has been raving about this roaring revival so I decided I had to see what the fuss is about.

Like the Royal Exchange production, this adaptation is performed in the round, with the stage located on the floor in the middle of the theatre. But it’s not merely in-the-round. Oh no – it’s immersive! Audiences can choose to sit in the seats or to stand for the duration of the show – onstage!

We opted for the standing/immersive tickets, especially because The Guardian‘s Arifa Akbar appeared a little bitter that she had not…

Standing for almost 3 hours hours is tough, especially after a busy week in London that began with a Beyoncé concert, where we also stood – but, I promise you, this is the best way to see the show. If you can stand, stand.

When you walk into the theatre, you notice that the stage is entirely flat. You wonder how you’ll possibly see the actors over everybody’s heads. But then the show begins and the magic happens.

There are several blocks on the floor that rise up and form platforms, allowing the actors to tower over the onstage audience. The crew, some of whom are dressed as US police officers, must be applauded for their remarkable ability to usher audiences in the right direction and make sure all the set is in the right place without a single noticeable mistake. Methinks they deserve the Olivier Award for Best Supporting Actor!

Every single design aspect of this production is dazzling, from the set to the costumes – especially those worn by Miss Adelaide, who is played to perfection by Olivier and WhatsOnStage Award nominee Marisha Wallace (who starred in the reimagined Oklahoma! revival off-West End). Wallace’s glamorous renditions of ‘A Bushel and a Peck’ and act two opener ‘Take Back Your Mink’ are two of the production’s best numbers, alongside the musical’s signature song, ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat,’ which is led by Nicely Nicely.

Helen Hayes Award winner Cedric Neal (who I previously reviewed in the world premiere of Back to the Future) thrives in this role. Nicely might not have the most stage time but he gets the musical’s best song, à la Fantine in Les Mis, who sings ‘I Dreamed a Dream’, dies halfway through the first act, and then gets to chill in her dressing room until the finale!

As is often the case with old musicals, there are two love stories at the forefront. At first, you think that Nathan Detroit (Line of Duty‘s Daniel Mays – fantastic as always) and Adelaide are going to be the primary focus of the play, for Nathan is the first lead we meet, but through Nathan we meet the actual lead: Sky Masterson, played by the superb (and smouldering) Andrew Richardson. Sky’s love interest, the pious Sarah Brown, is played by musical mainstay and blonde beauty Celinde Schoenmaker.

The cast also includes well-known theatre actor Anthony O’Donnell as Sarah’s boss, Arvide Abernathy, and Greek God George Ionnides (who I previously reviewed in On Your Feet!) as Dave the Dude and a member of the ensemble.

Ionnides really gets to shine in the Havana scene, when Sky and Sarah end up in a gay bar!

I don’t remember that from the original, you’re thinking, aren’t you? Don’t worry – neither do I.

Traditionally, the scene takes place in a Latin bar and Sky dances with a group of fiery Latinas, much to Sarah’s dismay. Whilst this adaptation is pretty straightforward, the creatives have made the bold decision to change the iconic Havana scene up. Ionnides’ character approaches Sky and asks him to dance. Sky doesn’t even think twice before grinding against the sexy Latino, with the other men in the cast linking up and slaying onstage. It was entirely unexpected – but very, very welcome. This little change breathed new life into an otherwise dated musical.

Next time a friend asks me what West End show they should watch when they go to London, I’m going to tell them to avoid the West End entirely. Head to the Bridge Theatre instead – Guys & Dolls is the hottest ticket in town.

Word of advice – if you get standing tickets, stick around after the curtain call; you might just get to dance with Marisha Wallace!


Guys & Dolls is currently booking at the Bridge Theatre until February 24.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

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