Saturday, November 12, 2011

"Sweet Charity" at the Bloomington Civic Theatre

I had never seen Sweet Charity and didn't know much about it, other than it was written and set in the 1960s, and the Christina Applegate 2005 Broadway revival got its start in Minneapolis (which sadly I didn't see).  So I decided to make the trip down to Bloomington (which really isn't as long as I think it is) to see the show.  I was not disappointed.  I discovered I love the show, from the music and choreography to the great 60s look of the set and costumes, and BCT presents a great production of it.

If you're unfamiliar with the show, here's a brief plot summary.  The titular character is a dance hall girl in NYC in the late 1960s.  She believes in love, even though she doesn't have much reason to.  In the beginning of the show her boyfriend steals her purse and pushes her into the lake.  But Charity gets right up again, and makes friends with an international movie star who's in love with someone else.  Determined to improve her life, she meets the sweet awkward Oscar when she decides to take a class at the local community center.  It seems as if she's found what she's been dreaming of - someone to love her.  But it turns out he's not worthy of our sweet Charity, so she keeps looking.

Highlights of the show include:
  • A star performance by Emily Herringshaw as Charity.  Her voice is beautiful and effortless, as is her dancing.  She really shines in "If My Friends Could See Me Now," a tentative expression of joy and disbelief at the situation she finds herself in (hanging out with an international movie star!) that grows into a full dance number with top hat and cane.  Emily makes Charity extremely likeable and showcases her endless hopefulness in the face of continual setbacks, that should make her seem like an idiot but somehow doesn't.  Charity doesn't get her happy ending, but she keeps hoping and looking for it.
  • A great supporting cast.  Angela Fox as Nickie and Larissa Gritti as Helene are Charity's two best friends, spunky and funny but with a vulnerability as shown in the beautiful and sad song "Baby Dream Your Dream."  Paul R. Coate (whom I saw in another classic NYC musical On the Town this summer) is suave and funny as the movie star Vittorio Vidal, and later as the leader of the hippie Rhythm of Life Church.  Jeff Turner's bio in the program is short, but his performance as Charity's possible one true love is not.  Oscar is charming, nervous, slightly awkward, and totally loveable.
  • Fabulous dance numbers, as expected in a show conceived by Bob Fosse.  Choreographer Tracy Doheny Erickson keeps much of Fosse's style intact in the many and diverse numbers.  In the signature song "Hey Big Spender," the bored dance hall girls in short colorful dresses and big hair make small, precise, meaningful movements.  My favorite number is "Rich Man's Frug," which seems to goes on and on and on (in a good way).  The dancers strike a fabulous pose, the music stops, the audience applauds, and then it begins again!  The dancers look fabulous in their mod 60s black dresses and tuxes (designed by Ed Gleeman), like they stepped right out of some TV show from the 1960s.  Sweet Charity suddenly turns into Hair for one number when Charity and Oscar attend a hippie church.  And towards the end of the show the ensemble becomes a marching band in "I'm A Brass Band."
Sweet Charity is a great show with big fabulous dance numbers as well as more intimate heartfelt moments.  It's only playing for another week, but it's a fun evening of theater if you can make it.

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