Sweet Charity


They don't make them like Sutton Foster anymore. Her go for broke comedic skills make her quadruple threat, and even though I know Gwen Verdon famously created the role, I can't imagine anyone else playing Charity Hope Valentine, the "dance hostess" with the heart of gold.

Written by Neil Simon (book), Cy Coleman (music), and Dorothy Fields (lyrics), Sweet Charity centers on the titular showgirl who, though down on her luck, has optimism to spare. Charity (Foster) works at the Fandango Club alongside Nickie (Asmeret Ghebremichael), Helene (Emily Padgett), and other jaded dancers. She's been jilted by her lover, and is looking for something more. She thinks she finds it in Oscar (Shuler Hensley), a seemingly nice guy, who just might be her ticket out.

Of course, like many of the musicals of its time (the mid- to late-60s), it gets darker at the end (I mean, Charity is just this side of a prostitute, so I guess it starts fairly dark.), which can throw you for a bit of a loop after two hours of musical comedy. But the darkness adds pathos and poignance, and, in this case, relevance. When Charity concludes by asking, "Where Am I Going?" we see that she's taking her life by the reins, no longer content to leave it up to the men and other people in her life.

(More female power: This revival is directed by Leigh Silverman, and the all-female band is led by Georgia Stitt.)

Mostly, though, this is a great excuse to see one of our living legends (Foster) in an iconic role, and make it her own. She is so funny, and she has a way of making Charity's optimism and naïveté seem sincere and genuine rather than saccharine or ironic or arch. And dances. We knew this (see the ten-minute tap number "Anything Goes" from the 2011 revival), and, thankfully, this production and choreographer Joshua Bergasse takes full advantage of his multi-talented leading lady.

He and the team do not make the most of the act two opener, "Rhythm of Life." I remember doing this number in a high school musical theatre class. It was a spirited church revival. Here, it's just a melange of Hippies. There's no plot–related reason to have "Rhythm of Life." You could easily go from the end of act one to the scene following "Rhythm of Life" without the musical interlude, so to not take advantage of the opportunity to have a big, splashy ensemble number at the top of act two, you're just wasting time. (This production has a small ensemble—the entire cast is 12 people—but the distinct characters in the number make clear that this is a directorial choice, not a solution to a logistical problem.)

Business note: This revival of Sweet Charity is being put on by the New Group in association with Kevin McCollum, the Broadway producer who has shepherded such hits as Rent to the stage, so think of this off-Broadway run as a try out. If you can get tickets for this run, which concludes January 8, 2017, get them, and see Sutton Foster be amazing. If not, wait for it to come to Broadway within the next year, and then call your big spender to shell out for the tickets!

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