Guys & Dolls at the Bridge review: Marisha Wallace is a standout in this blissful and exhilarating revival

Marisha Wallace as Miss Adelaide  (Manuel Harlan)
Marisha Wallace as Miss Adelaide (Manuel Harlan)

Broadway’s best-ever musical, Frank Loesser’s witty tale of New York wastrels tamed by women too good for them, gets a near-flawless revival in this immersive production by Nicholas Hytner.

The casting of the four leads is spot-on, with Marisha Wallace an absolute standout for her powerhouse vocals and perfect comic timing as Miss Adelaide, the scantily clad club singer who just wants to be married. Seriously, give her all the awards right now.

Subtitled “a musical fable of Broadway”, Guys & Dolls is a carefully constructed juxtaposition of gamblers and god-botherers, slyness and sweetness, comedy and romance. Wallace’s verve is duly balanced by the melting coolness and clarity of Celinde Schoenmaker’s missionary Sarah Brown.

Likewise, the perpetual muck-sweat anxiety of Daniel Mays as Adelaide’s eternal betrothed Nathan Detroit (14 years engaged and counting!) contrasts with the understated, melodious suavity of the extremely handsome Andrew Richardson, making his professional stage debut as Sky Masterson.

Although you can buy a seat, I’d strongly advise a promenade ticket that puts you up against the action. Blocks of scenery dotted by designer Bunny Christie with hydrants, barbers’ chairs and payphones rise up from the floor: neon signs and stoplights drop from the ceiling.

Hytner conducts the action around this ever-changing configuration of areas and levels like a tidal swirl: everyone gets a ringside, close-up view at some point; Richardson sang a couple of lines of Luck, Be a Lady directly to my wife. The stage management team takes a well-deserved bow at the end.

 (Manuel Harlan)
(Manuel Harlan)

The choreography, by Arlene Phillips and James Cousins, in these tight and elevated spaces, is astonishing. Miss Adelaide’s Hot Box dancers are the most pneumatic I’ve ever seen, and the fiesta-turned-fight that envelops Sky and Sarah on a Havana dance floor is a piece of tightly orchestrated chaos. That scene takes place in a gay club, by the way, an impish hint that it may not be just cards and dice distracting Sky from “dolls”.

There are lots of lovely details like this: terpsichorean echoes of Gene Kelly’s Singin’ in the Rain routine in Sarah’s swooning If I Were a Bell; the way she unconsciously undoes buttons on her uniform or her maidenly frock when she’s with Sky.

Adelaide and Nathan’s possible breakup song Sue Me is accompanied by alternating Walk/Don’t Walk traffic signs; Adelaide’s candyfloss hair, cerise gown and sparkly undergarment in Take Back Your Mink references another bombshell, 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, by the two female leads, is arguably the strongest duet with its torque-heavy, klezmer-influenced chorus. Cedric Neal adds a pristine gospel vibrato to the built-in showstopper Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.

Hytner and his cast pay as much attention to the drily comic script by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows as they do to Loesser’s score and lyrics. “I’m gonna be great in the kitchen,” Adelaide promises. “I’ve tried all the other rooms.” The interwar suits and frocks are gorgeous. I can’t stress enough the meticulousness and care that has gone into every aspect of this show. Blissful and exhilarating.

Bridge Theatre, to 2 Sept;