Sweet Charity is not a great musical. But it is an entertaining musical. The story concerns Charity Hope Valentine, a dance hall hostess (as opposed to being the prostitute of the source material) in 1966 Manhattan, and her search for love in the big, mean city. Book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields.
There are a couple of major problems. First, is the ending – which I won’t reveal. It’s logical, it makes perfect dramatic sense, in its time it was completely unexpected while still feeling inevitable… and I hate it. Second, about half the songs are great; the other half are merely competent. The merely competent songs are the ones where the only reason to have them in the show is, “We need a song here… I think.” If They Could See Me Now is a perfect expression of Charity’s joy at having an opulent night out with a movie star. But when Charity actually gets a marriage proposal, which should be an even bigger deal for her, I’m a Brass Band only packs about half the punch of If They Could See Me Now. And it's a problem with the material, not the execution.
That being the case, should you see Marriott Theatre’s production of Sweet Charity? Hell, yes. It’s a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
Alex Sanchez’s direction and choreography are absolutely spot-on brilliant. As with any Bob Fosse musical, the potential problem for a director lies in not being Bob Fosse. There’s a dictation of style that you must acknowledge, without being a copycat. Sanchez does a wonderful job with the choreography, and is an expert at staging the comedy. Simon’s book is one where the comedy dies if you’re polite about it. You have to go all out. Sanchez does that, and it works beautifully.
As Charity, Anne Horak’s acting, singing and dancing are all top-notch. She completely overcomes the issue that physically, she’s wrong for the part. I didn’t believe that a gorgeous blonde in 1966 New York would be having her problems. The role works best with a gamin. But Horak triumphs. By the end of the first act, you’re in love with her. She is completely moving and engaging.
It’s a shame that Alex Goodrich as the neurotic Oscar Lindquist doesn’t appear until Act I is almost over, because he takes the comedy and rachets it up to a whole other level. When I direct comedy, the biggest problem is getting actors to go as big as they need to be. They think it’s overacting; but it isn’t supposed to be real – it needs to appear real to the people in the back row. Goodrich is an expert at going extraordinarily big, getting huge laughs and keeping it believable.
So – the physical casting issue I had with Anne Horak (but she won me over)? Same issue but different results with as Kenny Ingram as Daddy Brubeck, singing The Rhythm of Life. Phenomenally talented man; wrong for the part. His voice is too high. (A) The pitch of the voice affected the clarity of the words, which come fast and furious. (B) The role requires a voice that can win over a crowd. Ingram has a great voice, but it’s a violin, not a trumpet.
Natonia Monét and Dani Spieler are fun as Charity’s pals Helene and Nickie; Adam Jacobs is charming as the suave but rather hapless movie star Vittorio and Alexandra Polkovic is great as his insecure bombshell girlfriend.
One of the truisms for ensemble members is this: give it your all, because somebody’s going to looking at you at all times. And this ensemble gives it their all. However, some people have more to give. Kyra Sorce is very funny as a YMCA receptionist, but I started paying attention much earlier: in Hey, Big Spender, Sorce is one of the dance hall girls. While beckoning to the off-stage men in the song, Sorce has this look of, “I really want to dance with you but I might have a knife and it’d be fun to use it but don’t think about that – let’s dance!” It’s this insane look. And later, she has a brief sideways-lower-lip expression that I first saw in Frankenhooker (also about a troubled Manhattan girl with promiscuity issues.) Her verbal timing in the YMCA scene is pitch-perfect. In short, this girl needs to be cast in a major musical-comedy role. Soon. (She's the one in the middle; short black hair.)
Patti Garwood and her orchestra do a fantastic job with the music. Mieka van der Ploeg’s costumes are period perfect.
To reiterate – Sweet Charity is not the greatest musical of all time. But this is an amazing production where every aspect is first rate. Spend the money. Go see it.
Sweet Charity runs at the Marriott Theatre, Ten Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL 60069. For tickets and information: