The blur between getting one’s art and entertainment on screens of all sorts and a live, shared experience becomes a little murkier with Morris Panych’s take on the Broadway darling of 1966 and especially the 1986 revival. Using Cameron Davis’ projections for both the opening credits (only lacking Universal Pictures’ logo to complete the illusion that the film was about to start) and the stylish New York City backdrops give the production a somewhat cinematic air, but vividly sets the stage for Ken MacDonald’s ever-functional, highly creative solutions to the show’s physical challenges (notably the two, literal, narrative showstoppers: an elevator that conveniently refuses to budge and a Ferris wheel car dangling helplessly above terra firma—on both occasions filled with two lovers coming from opposite backgrounds desperately in search of themselves).
But in a disconcerting sort of way, the overall look of the main action (the Fandango Ballroom—a dance hall where men choose their partners from an array of ready-to-please-for-cash women—where even its neon sign never misses a bulb) and its female staff look just too darn nice—you could almost say pure—to drive Neil Simon’s points (based on the screenplay, Nights of Cabiria, by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano) about Charity Hope Valentine’s quest for security and real love. The only instantly believable character in this house of questionable repute is the owner who has no qualms about making dough from girls whose lives are stuck in the proverbial vicious circle. Thanks to expert costuming by Charlotte Dean, Jay Turvey readily epitomizes the greedy parasite but then goes one step further by leading/delivering the finest musical number (“I Love to Cry at Weddings”) of the night. His voice soared where most others—comparatively—declaimed; he took stage in a manner that was only approached by the Act II opener: “The Rhythm of Life,” where Jeremy Carver-James lit the flame of religious fervor, inspiring the company to match him step for step with Parker Esse’s superb choreography.
That too clean to be true aura also dominated the pit: Paul Sportelli and his talented charges couldn’t find the magic of down and dirty when required, giving the overall musical backdrop a decidedly pastel hue where the balance of bold primaries was wanted. Once again, the mind boggles at the possibilities if the microphones were switched off everywhere and music au natural was allowed to actually find its way to the ear from a number of sources/places rather than one.
In the title role, Julie Martell danced up a storm and flew through her lines with panache and understanding; all that remains is discovering the vocal magic of “less is more” introspection in “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” As the young man in search of a virgin, Kyle Blair was appropriately moral but with Charity appearing in an outfit that says, “How about now?” his naïveté stretched credibility to the breaking point.
Mark Uhre seemed right in his element playing the matinée idol who isn’t above a bit of “charity begins at home” (while the girlfriend is out…). Also impressive were Charity’s confidantes and co “taxi drivers,” Helen (Melanie Phillipson) and Nickie (Kimberley Rampersad—newcomer to the Shaw—is a real find, showing all the makings of a triple threat).
Quibbles aside, audiences will most certainly enjoy Sweet Charity no matter what the dancing hostesses do in the company of their voracious, short-term owners. JWR