Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Sweet Charity
Arizona Broadway Theatre

Also see Gil's reviews of Motown the Musical, The Wedding Singer , The History of the Devil, and Avenue Q


Gabriella Whiting, Elizabeth Koepp, and Liz Fallon
The 1966 musical Sweet Charity has an exceptional jazz-influenced score with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Based on Federico Fellini's Oscar winning film Nights of Cabiria, the musical has a slim yet charming book by Neil Simon that tells the story of hopelessly romantic dance hall hostess Charity Hope Valentine. The show was originally directed and choreographed on Broadway by Bob Fosse and starred his wife, Gwen Verdon. The Arizona Broadway Theatre production features a talented cast and colorful creative elements as well as choreography by Kurtis W. Overby, modeled on the signature style of Fosse, which explodes on the ABT stage.

Set in the 1960's, the musical is a series of random encounters that Charity experiences as she goes about her life in New York City. While the main character has been altered somewhat from the prostitute in Fellini's film, it is fairly clear from Simon's book that Charity has "been" with many men as a result of her profession working at the Fandango Ballroom. The unlucky in love girl starts out with a loser boyfriend who is only out for his own best interests, but things start to look up when she stumbles upon an Italian movie star who treats her like royalty as well as the meek and mild Oscar, whom she finds herself falling for. But will Charity be able to overcome her seedy profession and find love?

While Sweet Charity is considered a musical classic, and there are many hit songs that came from it that are instantly recognizable, those who've not seen the show before might be in for a bit of a surprise. Simon's book, while funny in parts, does adhere close to Fellini's original downtrodden, realistic script. So, while the musical sequences are upbeat and fun, don't expect the happiest of happy endings from the story. Even Fosse must have known about the concern over the ending—for his film version, which starred Shirley MacLaine, he shot two different endings, one happy and one sad. And while Fosse's choreography is rich in texture and style, some of the musical numbers, which are almost all blockbusters, can seem a little out of place, as if they were shoehorned in. This is especially notable in "Rich Man's Frug," three back-to-back dance sequences, with no words, that show off the impressive dance skills of the cast, as well as "The Rhythm of Life" that seems to mainly exist to make fun of the hippie movement springing up around the country at the time the show premiered. These musical numbers may be fun but they don't do much to advance the plot. However, with blockbuster songs like "Big Spender," "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This," and "I'm a Brass Band" and the gifted cast that ABT has assembled, you can look over the musical's shortcomings and just sit back and enjoy the show's many highlights.

The ABT cast is impressive. Liz Fallon plays Charity perfectly as the always optimistic girl who has big dreams and is desperate to be loved. She also evokes a refined sense of purity even though Charity is technically anything but pure, which make the bad luck she encounters all the more moving. Fallon may be a bit curvier than past Charitys I've seen, but it actually works to her advantage as it sets her apart from the other dance hall girls and gives the character a better sense of realism. She has a clear, big belting voice and throws herself into the multitude of dance steps. She is funny, spunky, expressive and full of charm—everything you could ask for in the part. As the two main men in Charity's life, Andy Meyers is exceptionally neurotic yet extremely likable as Oscar, and Jamie Parnell's infinite charm makes his Italian film star Vittorio Vidal a classic gentleman. Parnell's beautiful booming voice sends his solo of "Too Many Tomorrows" flying to the rafters.

The actresses who play Charity's Fandango co-workers all have the dead eyes and uncaring looks of women who've been working at their profession for far too long and feel trapped. This is most apparent in the knock-out number "Big Spender," with the combination of the ladies' empty expressions and Overby's sleek choreography, which includes the ladies' legs twisted around the railings in the ballroom, evoking women who clearly wish they could be anywhere but where they are. As Charity's Fandango friends Nickie and Helene, Elizabeth Koepp and Gabriella Whiting are superb, bringing an appropriate sense of sass and frustration to their lives. Their voices combine and soar beautifully with Fallon on the glorious "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" and their sweet duet "Baby, Dream Your Dream."

Director M. Seth Reines provides a clear sense of romance and fun, with the scene where Charity and Oscar get stuck in an elevator a perfectly staged comic delight. And even though Geof Eroe's set design is full of optimistic, bright, cartoon-like colors and designs, modeled somewhat on the pop artists of the 1960s such as Peter Max, Reines doesn't shy away from the darker, more sensual aspects of the plot. John P. White's costumes are sublime, with an abundance of exceptional period-perfect outfits and some wigs teased so high that they are nothing short of brilliant. Jeff Davis' lighting is colorful, yet also appropriately dark and seedy when required.

Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of Sweet Charity is lovingly nostalgic, with impressive sets and costumes that evoke the signature and freewheeling '60s period of the show. While the story still leaves much to be desired, especially for those who've never seen this musical before, the combination of a winning cast, clear direction, and sensational choreography elevates the show's many showstoppers and makes this production not only entertaining but also a loving homage to the legacy of Bob Fosse.

Sweet Charity runs through May 10th, 2015, at the Arizona Broadway Theatre, 7701 West Paradise Lane in Peoria. Tickets can be ordered at azbroadway.org or by calling 623 776-8400.

Stage Direction by M. Seth Reines
Music Direction: JR McAlexander
Choreography: Kurtis W. Overby
Scenic Design: Geof Eroe
Costume Design: John P. White
Lighting Design: Davis Entertainment
Sound Design: Eric Johnson
Executive Producer: Kiel Klaphake
Casting and Artistic Producer: Cassandra Klaphake
Stage Management: Jenissa Yauney

Cast: (in order of appearance)
Charity Hope Valentine: Liz Fallon
Charlie : Joel Duke
Married Couple: Katie Jaime, Denzel Edmondson
Woman with Hat: Kat Bailes
Ice Cream Vendor: Laurie Trygg
Baseball Player: Colin Shea Denniston
Young Spanish Man: John Paul LaPorte
Dirty Old Man: Jonathan Rouse
Cops: Layne Kunce, Kirk Bixby
Helene: Gabriella Whiting
Nickie: Elizabeth Koepp
Herman: John T. McAvaney
Doorman: Joel Duke
Ursula: Lynzee Jaye Paul 4man
Vittorio Vidal: Jamie Parnell
Manfred: Jonathan Rouse
Receptionist: Kat Bailes
Oscar Lindquist: Andy Meyers
Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck: Denzel Edmondson
Rosie: Trisha Hart Ditsworth
Barney: Jonathan Rouse
Good Fairy: Laurie Trygg
Ensemble: Kat Bailes, Colin Shea Denniston, Joel Duke, Trisha Hart Ditsworth, Denzel Edmondson, Caitlin Evans, Lynzee Jaye Paul 4man, Katie Jaime, Elizabeth Koepp, Layne Kunce, John Paul LaPorte, John T. McAvaney, Alicia Newcom, Rachel Perin, Jonathan Rouse, Kirk Bixby, Laurie Trygg, Gabriella Whiting


Photo: Arizona Broadway Theatre

--Gil Benbrook


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for Phoenix


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