By Sandi Durell
Charity Hope Valentine is fresh, sweet yet tough, and reimagined in the form of Sutton Foster as she brings her farm girl innocence to The New Group’s delightful revival at the Pershing Square Signature Center. With heart on her sleeve, (and a tattoo on her arm) her always believable unworldliness is front and center. The girls at the Fan-Dango Ballroom try to shake up her realities but to no avail.
On this 50th Anniversary, you’re treated to the book by Neil Simon, incredible music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and to many of the songs we sing and hum to this day like “Big Spender,” the opening, as the taxi dancers proposition the guys. In this case, they’re up close and personal where you can almost sense their eagerness as their bodies move sinuously around the rectangular 3 – sided stage,
In this bare bones production with brick wall doorways, the all female band, under musical direction by Georgia Stitt, is stationed above. This is no frills – a couple of chairs, a lounge, a table, a clothing rack that come rolling in and out as needed cleverly designed by Derek McLane.
It’s all about the music and dancing and the plight of the working girl; the racey, sexy dance hall hostesses and a Charity who just won’t give up. One day she thinks she’s getting married and, instead, winds up in the lake her purse and money stolen – easily taken advantage of by the hopeful, she thought, soon to be husband Charlie. Ah, but that’s been her life of woe and desperation. Does she fall apart? No! She picks herself up and moves on meeting movie star Vittorio Vidal (wonderful tenor Joel Perez who ably plays several roles – Charlie, Herman, Daddy Brubeck), invited to dinner and to his apartment, where she winds up hiding in the closet with a huge sandwich she laboriously (laugh out loud comical) puts together making it easier to peek out and watch Vittorio make love to his girlfriend Ursula (Nikka Graff Lanzarone) in this hilarious scene. She eventually leaves with what she feels are the big prizes – his autographed photo and his movie props – a top hat, cane and tap shoes – “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” the girls making fun of her, all realizing they’ll never break out of the rut – “ There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This ” (Asmeret Ghebremichael (Nickie), Emily Padgett (Helene) and Charity).
The always hysterical elevator scene where Charity and new hopeful, shy tax accountant Oscar (the wonderful voiced and comically superb Shuler Hensley) get stuck, as claustrophobic Oscar shores up with Charity in “I’m the Bravest Individual” – – maybe love and marriage aren’t that far off!
Act II opens on Charity and Oscar’s first date attending “The Rhythm of Life” Church. She tries to hide her profession, saying she works in a bank, but Oscar finds out the truth and says he doesn’t care. Charity is elated at the thought she finally found a guy and is exuberant in the gutsy “I’m A Brass Band,” followed by a farewell party at the Fan-Dango – “I Love to Cry at Weddings.” But, alas it isn’t in the cards, as Oscar announces he can’t stop thinking about the other men, whereupon he pushes her into the lake and takes off, thankfully without her purse. Sadly, Charity sings “Where Am I Going?”
The updated modern choreographic moves bring this Sweet Charity into the 21st Century under the skillful hand of Joshua Bergasse and the entire production melds and morphs with knowing aplomb under the extremely competent direction of Leigh Silverman.
Sutton Foster comes off as an irresistible joy singing, dancing and displaying her comic chops in her au natural this is me persona. She proves, once again, she can do anything. Shuler Hensley is the perfect schleppy Oscar. The cast is impeccably rounded out by Darius Barnes, James Brown III, Sasha Hutchings, Donald Jones Jr. and Cody Williams, many who double and triple in roles.
Spot-on lighting design is by Jeff Croiter and sound by Leon Rothenberg. Clint Ramos is responsible for the costuming. The band is composed of Lauren Hendrix on bass, Janna Graham on drums, Alexa Tarantino on reeds and Nioka Workman on cello.
There may be some dates with tickets still available in this limited run. Do try. .. and maybe you’ll be lucky!
Sweet Charity continues thru January 8. The show runs 2 – ½ hours (one intermission)
The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at Signature Theatre, 480 West 42 Street
Tickets: Ticket Cenetral 212 279-4200
Photos: Monique Carboni