Sweet Charity Strikes a Sour Note at the Paramount
Neil Simon's book, loosely based on the Fellini film Nights of Cabiria, is a bit ramshackle and its ending has never worked (and has been reworked and reworked, as in this version, to little avail), but he created colorful characters and some great comic dialogue scenes which have worn well. The Coleman/Fields score has a number of clinkers that were eliminated for the movie, but the winners - including "Hey Big Spender", "I'm A Brass Band", "Where Am I Going?", and "If My Friends Could See Me Now" - more than offset the lesser tunes. A local production of Sweet Charity by VLO (directed and choreographed by Village Theatre's Steve Tomkins) may halve had a smaller budget for sets, costumes and orchestra than this version, but it was vastly more enjoyable than this effort.
Ringwald is perky but too abrasive for Charity. She lacks the warmth and vulnerability essential for the role. Her quality would make her a good bet for the role of the brazen lady taxi driver in On The Town, but she struggles as the winsome taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine. Her singing voice is (largely) on pitch, but it is not one you want to hear on eight or nine numbers in an evening, and her dance skills are modest at most. Why cast a non-dancer a role known for its dancing? Not that her sidekick dance hall pals Amanda Watkins as Nickie and Kisha Howard as Helene aren't any threat to the memory of Chita Rivera and Paula Kelly (from the film version). When the three tackle the powerhouse dance trio "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" (which is to begin with taken at a funereal pace) you find yourself thing, yeah, there's gotta be! Great number after number from "Big Spender" to "Brass Band" is done in not only by Cilento's dismal choreography, but also by the uninspiring abilities of the dancers in the cast.
What remains to like in this Sweet Charity, a female-driven star vehicle if there ever was one, but one without incendiary female performances? Oddly enough, the leading men. Though he doesn't appear till late in act one, Guy Adkins is superb as Oscar Lindquist, Charity's mild-mannered almost husband. He nails every comic quirk inherent in Simon's lines, bends his agile body like a human pretzel in the famous scene when Charity and Oscar get stuck in an elevator, brings the best out in Ringwald with their easy chemistry in the "Bravest Individual" duet, and charms totally with his rendition of a charming song, "Good Impression," which was interpolated into the show from another Coleman musical that never saw a Broadway production. The other men have even less featured onstage time to make their impression, yet impressive they are, from the rich singing voice of Aaron Ramey as Italian movie icon Vittorio Vidal on "Too Many Tomorrows," to David Glaspie's strut and style as Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck in "Rhythm of Life" (which he almost wills into being the red hot production number it would be with better choreography), and last but not least to Richard Ruiz as Herman, the dance hall boss, whose jovial demeanor and jubilant singing kick "I Love to Cry at Weddings" into high gear.
The show's costumes by William Ivey Long are a hit and miss affair, mostly because there don't seem to be enough of them. However Scott Pask's sleek and oh so sixties mod scenic design is an unqualified triumph - something the show in total might have been with the right creative talents in the director and choreographer's chairs, and with a more suitably cast, higher octane leading lady.
Sweet Charity runs through October 29, 2006 at the Paramount Theatre, 9th and Pine in downtown Seattle. For more information go to www.paramount.com.