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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Sweet Charity
Seattle Musical Theatre

Also see David's review of Carousel


Roxanne De Vito, Megan Tyrell, and Larissa Schmitz
One of the keystones of the legacy of dance left behind by the inimitable Bob Fosse is his 1966 Tony nominated musical Sweet Charity. Neil Simon's book based on the Fellini film classic "The Nights of Cabiria" bears signs of much Fosse input, while composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Dorothy Fields wrote a score that, while it contains a few clunkers, still stands out as one of the most popular of its era due to such showstoppers as "Hey Big Spender," "I'm A Brass Band," and "If My Friends Could See Me Now," which have outlived the show itself. Written as a star vehicle for Fosse's then wife Gwen Verdon, Sweet Charity has been revived on Broadway twice, with Debbie Allen and Christina Applegate assuming the leads, and Verdon herself helped coach Shirley MacLaine in the role for the Fosse-directed 1969 film version. At Seattle Musical Theatre, director/choreographer Harry Turpin gets the Fosse style and dance idiom, and niftily puts a game and energetic cast through some fairly rigorous choreography, while eliciting some charming principal performances.

Set in seedier, dirtier yet definitely more characterful midtown Manhattan, Charity is a "hostess" at the Fandango Dance Hall, with the biggest heart and the worst luck in boyfriends. Undeterred after one jerk knocks her off a bridge and practically drowns her, she embarks on a crazy one night stand with Italian movie idol Vittorio Vidal, who is trying to make his lover jealous. With no romance and a few souvenirs to show for that misadventure, Charity and her closest cohorts Nickie and Helene vow to find a better life. A chance meeting in a stalled elevator introduces her to the mild-mannered if somewhat quirky Oscar Lindquist, who, after a string of losers, seems like the real deal, but Charity's pals remind her he may not approve of her chosen profession. The will he stay or will he go dilemma comprises the latter part of the show, not to be spoiled here for those new to the show. The ending of Sweet Charity has always proven problematic, and it's interesting to note Fosse filmed two different endings for the movie version in response to this.

Filling Charity's well-worn heels in the SMT production is the talented Megan Tyrell, who is triple-threat material with acting, vocal, and dance chops. More than any other Charity I have seen, Tyrell goes for the comedy and laughs inherent in the Simon script, but with a certain Lucille Ball quality that seems to counter the character's general waif-like qualities. Once she settles in, and gets past Charity's first two lackluster solos, Tyrell scores time and again throughout the remainder of the show: garnering honest laughs as Charity munches away on an apple in Vittorio's closet as he makes love to his girlfriend; giving Oscar a stiff-upper lip lesson during their elevator entrapment; and delivering a most feeling rendition of Charity's sole ballad, the driving "Where Am I Going?" She scores solidly on the showy "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and "I'm A Brass Band," and makes it scarcely a problem she reads a bit too young for the role.

Charity's role carries a lot of the show, but she has a stellar support team here to give her a little break now and then. Front and center are Larissa Schmitz as the "seen it all and then some" Nickie and Roxanne DeVito as a dead-pan, stoned off her keister Helene. They lead the ensemble gals in the show's bawdy trademark number "Big Spender," cook up a comic tornado in tandem with Tyrell for the joyous "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This," and add some character defining nuances to their featured duet "Baby, Dream Your Dream." Doug Fahl is a warmly likable sad-sack as Oscar, scoring big on the best comedy lines Simon cooked up (the elevator scene) and in song on his "Bravest Individual" duet with Tyrell, and heartfelt in his solo to the title song. In what might be described as a featured cameo role as self-proclaimed preacher/guru Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck, Evan Woltz is like groovy, man, leading Turpin's splashy showpiece dance number "Rhythm of Life," a rousing show highlight that goes full '60s hippie-dippy mod, giving costumer John Allbritton's acid-trippingly outrageous costumes their full measure. Matthew Steven Lawrence suavely spoofs the continental playboy matinee idols of the day and gives the tuneful but tedious love song "Too Many Tomorrows " a silky smooth rendition. Curtis Jacobson with his diminutive Sheldon Leonard type gruff characterization of Fandango manager Herman stuns with his piping, angelic tenor leading the "I Love to Cry At Weddings" production number.

Featured ensemble standouts include Marissa Ryder, Brian Culbertson, and Amberlee Williams. The whole ensemble gets the full measure of Fosse style in the "Rich Man's Frug" showpiece in act one, and Turpin makes a group of performers with varied levels of experience function as a clean unit. No one doesn't break a sweat in this production.

Musical director Michael Nutting confidently leads a larger than usual and mostly on the money band, and Caleb Dietzel scores a double-header success with his lighting and sound designs. Phillip Lienau's scenic design features an attractive New York City silhouette cityscape, and pieces which glide on and off to effect smooth transitions that a multi-location show like this demands. Costumer Allbritton's less showy frocks are nearly always on key, and his outfit for Charity (much different from the Fosse prototype) ultimately grew on me.

The quaint idea of "dance hall hostesses" was something Fosse I am sure hated having to disguise, but the U.S. in 1966 was still waiting for the dawning of the age of Aquarius. Still, Sweet Charity endures as an entertaining evening of relatively adult song and dance, and Turpin's production at Seattle Musical Theatre does the master's memory proud, far more than I can say about the last tour version that played the Paramount.

Sweet Charity runs through March 1, 2015, at Seattle Musical Theatre at 7120 62nd Ave NE For ticket and other information contact the box-office at 206-363-2809 or visit them online at www.SeattleMusicalTheatre.org.


Photo: Jeff Carpenter



- David Edward Hughes



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