Guys and Dolls. Music & Lyrics by Frank Loesser. Book by Jo Swerling & Abe Burrows. The Bridge Theatre, 1 Potters Field, London SE1 to 2 September 2023. 4****. William Russell.

Nicholas Hytner is back playing with his toys in this dazzlingly staged immersive production of one of the greatest Broadway musicals. It is the third time the Bridge has turned its stalls into an acting and promenading area with platforms rising and falling and combining in different ways to create acting areas watched by the hoi polloi here directed to get out of danger by performers pretending to be New York cops. The seated audience is in the round. For those who have never seen the show before it could well be a five star experience but the reality is that in spite of a first rate cast there have been better productions. Musicals in the round in particular suffer as the songs get directed away from some of those watching or one gets no idea where the voice is coming from and as always one gets too many backs while the other sides of the circle are being performed to. There are moments when it all starts to drag ever so slightly as the action loses momentum. Hytner managed this sort of staging – the set is by Bunny Christie – brilliantly with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and slightly less so with Julius Caesar and once again slightly less. The show – the film version makes it perfectly clear – is something to be looked at face on. That is how it was conceived and you tinker with it at your peril. But one cannot really fault the performances and the orchestra plays those tunes to perfection. The two plot lines work well – Nathan Detroit (Daniel Mays) is looking for somewhere to hold a crap game and delaying marrying Miss Adelaide (Marisha Wallace), the slightly over the hill star of the Hotbox nightclub while Sky Masterson (Andrew Richardson who has a voice rather like Marlon Brando in the movie) is a gambler involved in getting Sarah Brown (Celinde Schoenmaker), the evangelist of a mission with no customers, to go with him to Cuba. Around the two story lines float an assortment of characters from the Runyan world who tend in this sort of production to fade into the background too often although Cedric Neal as Nicely-Nicely Johnson does stop the show with Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat but everyone who sings it does anyway. The other Runyon characters are neither here nor there although Big Jule, the out of town menace, who threatens to take over the crap game is undeniably very big. The choreography by Arlene Phillips never really gets a chance to shine as those platforms provide very cramped space for dancers to flourish. Marisha Wallace as a rather more solid Miss Adelaide than usual does get her point numbers over perfectly, however, and as Sarah Brown Celinde Schoenmaker has a terrific soprano voice. The trip to Cuba allows for some dancing and a slightly odd encounter between Sky and a hunky dancer which upsets Sarah enough to excuse the brawl which always happens although it is an aspect of the story peculiar to this production. People who like musicals will flood to it, people seeing it for the first time will discover marvellous songs – this is not a one-hit number show – and it should keep the tills at the Bridge pinging all summer long. Maybe the future does lie with theatre in the round but that would be a pity. The presence of the on stage audience is actually neither here nor there – they could be having a good time but when the cast is performing attention is focused on them not the standing throng. But there is no getting away from it – the boat is still rocking , you will stand up at the end and the Bridge has a sure fire hit on its hands.

Nathan Detroit: Daniel Mays.

Sky Masterson: Andrew Richardson,

Nicely-Nicely Johnson: Cedric Neal.

Benny Southstreet: Mark Oxtoby.

Big Jule: Cameron Johnson.

Harry the Horse: Jordan Castle.

Lieutenant Brannigan: Cornelius Clarke.

the other Runyon characters – Ryan Pidgen, Perry O’Dea, Simon Anthony, George Ioannides, Leslie Garcia Bowman, Callum Bell, Dale White, Ike Fallon, Robbie McMillan, Anthony O’Donnell.

Sarah Brown: Celinde Schoenmaker.

Arvide Abernathy: Anthony O’Donnell.

General Cartwright: Katy Secombe.

The Save a Soul missionaries: Lydia Bannister, Kathryn, Barnes, Simon Anthony, Charlotte Stuart, Timovimbanashe Sibanda.

Miss Adelaide: Marisha Wallace.

Hot Box characters – Katy Secombe, Cindy Belliot, Timovinbaanashe Silvanda, Petrella Dias, Lydia Bannister, Sasha Wareham, Isabel Snaas.

Ho-Ho Boys: Cedric Neal, Jordan Castle, Simon Anthony, Rydan Pidgeon.

Handsome Jack Gogarty: Leslie Garcia Bowman,

Havana cast – Ryan Pidegon, Simon Anthony, Cameron Johnson.

Director: Nicholas Hytner.

Choreographer: Arlene Phillips with James Cousins.

Musical Supervisor and arranger: Tom Brady.

Set Designer: Bunny Christie,

Costume Designers: Bunny Christie and Deborah Adrews.

Lighting Designer: Paule Constable.

Sound Designer: Paul Arditti.

Orchestrator: Charlie Rosen.

Prodiction photographs: Manuel Harlan.

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