Saturday, September 15, 2018

Including Superb Star, 'Sweet Charity' Has Its Charms, But Doesn't Equal the Sum of Its Parts -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Sweet Charity
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire, IL
Thru October 28

Some of the greatest names in the annals of entertainment history are connected to the 1966 musical, Sweet Charity.

Federico Fellini directed the film--Nights of Cabira--on which it is based. Bob Fosse conceived, directed and choreographed the Broadway premiere. Neil Simon wrote the book (i.e. script), Cy Coleman the music, Dorothy Fields the lyrics. Gwen Verdon starred on Broadway with John McMartin, who reprised his role in the Fosse-directed film version alongside Shirley MacLaine.

And in Marriott Theatre's new production, estimable talent also abounds, with several of the cast members bringing impressive Broadway credits.

In the title role, Anne Horak--who has played Roxie Hart in Chicago on Broadway--is excellent, and eminently likable. Local stalwarts Alex Goodrich (Oscar), Terry Hamilton (Herman) and Alexandra Palkovic (Ursula) are terrific. Kenny Ingram (Daddy Brubeck) and Adam Jacobs (Vittorio Vidal) are Marriott vets who have enjoyed fine Broadway careers; the former notably in The Lion King for 15 years, the latter in that show, Les Misérables and the title role of Aladdin. Dani Spieler (Nickie), who has been in several Broadway shows and National Tours, is delightful, as is Natonia Monét (Helene), who I felt could have made for an intriguing Charity.

Photo credit on all: Justin Barbin
The score includes a number of great songs--"Big Spender," "If My Friends Could See Me Now," "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This," "I'm the Bravest Individual," "Sweet Charity," "I Love to Cry at Weddings"--and there is much fine choreography under the auspices of director Alex Sanchez.

There are also many funny lines of dialogue courtesy of the legendary--and just recently passed--playwright Neil Simon.

Goodrich, in particular is hilarious, and has great chemistry with Horak.

Yet for all that it has going for it, historically and currently, Sweet Charity is fun but well short of fantastic.

My sense is that, despite the esteemed creators and several fine songs, the source material is to blame far more than any deficiencies at Marriott.

I've only seen Sweet Charity once before, starring Christina Applegate, in Chicago on its way to a Broadway revival in 2005.

I wasn't penning full blog reviews then, but in my Shows Seen database, gave it 7/10, so the equivalent of @@@1/2 here.

And while Sweet Charity is a famed title in the canon of classic Broadway musicals, the original production won just one of the nine Tony Awards for which it was nominated (for Fosse's choreography).

So while charms are abundant at Marriott, so too are likely inherent flaws. 

In Nights of Cabiria, the central character is a Rome prostitute--named Cabiria and played by Giulietta Masina--who searches for true love in vain.

That's essentially the desire of Charity Hope Valentine in the musical, but in 1966 America, her profession was adjusted to that of dance hall hostess, also known as a taxi dancer (though still essentially a girl for hire).

While director Sanchez, star Horak and others involved at Marriott have expressly aimed to be sensitive to today's #MeToo movement, playing up Charity's strength vs. any degradation she faces, the core conceit feels dated and she too romantically desperate.

And despite considerable tunefulness by composer Cy Coleman and many cheeky lyrics from Dorothy Fields that make most of the songs individual delights, Sweet Charity really doesn't flow all that well.

Sanchez's choreography can aptly be called a strength of this production, particularly during "Big Spender," but skillful dancing can't prevent Act I's "Rich Man's Frug" from feeling unnecessarily long without adding anything to the show's narrative.

A few other numbers tend to lag as well and/or come off as too capsulized.

Adam Jacobs is great fun as Vittorio Vidal, with his rich voice resounding on "Too Many Tomorrow's," but--unless I just didn't recognize the actor in other scenes--he's woefully underutilized.

Likewise, it's a joy seeing Kenny Ingram lead a congregation of hippie followers in "The Rhythm of Life," but it too is a relatively small role in a scene that, despite Felliniesque trappings, feels a bit forced.

Dani Spieler and Natonia Monét delectably make the most of their stage time as Charity's dance hall colleagues and confidants, and Sweet Charity hits its high mark when Alex Goodrich shows up as Oscar, a nebbish who aims to win Charity's heart.

Goodrich made meet laugh out loud as Oscar meets Charity in an elevator, and his interactions with Horak are delightful, as their characters ping-pong each other's neuroses.

So as I noted above, there is much great talent at work in the round at Marriott Theatre, and a whole lot to like about Sweet Charity.

It's just that its many fine parts wind up greater than the whole.

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