Guys & Dolls (2023 London Cast Recording) | Review

David Benedict
Friday, September 29, 2023

New orchestrations make this a fresh take, not a dutiful re-retread

The oddest thing about Guys & Dolls, widely regarded as the finest ever musical comedy, is that it’s never had a truly satisfactory recording. Despite indelible performances, the original cast recording is more like a highlights disc and sounds as if it were made down a corridor, something the 2000 remastering sought to solve but which instead wound up seeming to be sung in a cardboard box. There are pluses and minuses to every subsequent recording, and now comes the latest via Nicholas Hytner’s frankly joyous new London production, complete with interlinking dialogue.

At 34 tracks, including two encores of Cedric Neal’s gospel-fired ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’, plus dance remixes, the disc is in a league of its own

With new orchestrations, this is a fresh take, not a dutiful re-retread. Not that musical supervisor/arranger Tom Brady has made changes for change’s sake. This is very much a record of a period piece yet in a 2023 frame.

On the plus side, the balance between performers and the band is ideal, with every single lyric audible. But that clarity comes at a price: the singers are so close-miked that the sense of being in a theatre is lost. The only other downside is one number that sounds out of kilter. Composer/lyricist Loesser’s genius lay in his ability to make vernacular lyrics fit music to sound like natural speech, but in ‘I’ll Know’, both Celinde Schoenmaker’s Sarah and Andrew Richardson’s Sky seem enslaved to a plodding rhythm rather than using it to illuminate lines and character. But both make up for that on all their other tracks.

Without overplaying, Schoenmaker banishes the notion that Sarah is the least interesting role, notably in her deliciously sexually released ‘If I Were a Bell’. She and everyone else is aided by orchestrations glowing with romance and strong on imaginative, comic underlining.

Best of all, the ballsy brass and sax-drenched sound yell ‘sass’ whenever possible. The Havana number is alive with zesty Cuban rhythms, percussion and piano, while ‘Take Back Your Mink’ – which features everything from comic solo violin, clarinet and pizzicato strings to stripper-style raunch – is a triumph.

As the Hot Box leading light Miss Adelaide, show-stealing Marisha Wallace is having the kind of solid gold, ring-a-ding-ding fun that Hugh Grant had in Paddington 2. Canny, sultry, funny and surprisingly vulnerable by turn, she mines every moment for truth, nowhere more so than in the brilliantly directed ‘Sue Me’, her duet with Daniel Mays’s wonderfully characterised Nathan – which plays as nothing less than a full-blown marital row that happens to be (very well) sung.

At 34 tracks, including two encores of Cedric Neal’s gospel-fired ‘Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat’, plus dance remixes, the disc is in a league of its own. If you cannot get to the show, it’s the next best thing.

Album Details

Frank Loesser music, lyrics

Jo Swerling, Abe Burrows book

Cast Daniel Mays, Andrew Richardson, Marisha Wallace, Celinde Schoenmaker et al

Orchestrations Charlie Rosen

Musical supervision/ arrangements/direction Tom Brady

Broadway Records