28
Jan
19

Sweet Charity

 

Sweet Charity

Understudy Productions & Lizzie Moore

Brisbane Powerhouse Visy Theatre

January 25 – February 10 2019

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

 

FUN     LAUGHS     GOOD TIMES

 

 

Singing without acting is just noise.

Sutton Foster

 

Social change is coming and things will never be the same again.

It makes literal the misogynistic idea that women’s bodies are rented, until they are “bought” by a husband.

It is a show that stands as relevant today as ever.

Kris Stewart and Maureen Bowra

 

You probably know a number of the famous songs from Sweet Charity, but you might not be as familiar with the show, which tells the tale of a perpetually lovestruck, politely regarded “dance hall hostess” in the swinging sixties, while NYC’s Madison Avenue bustles, hemlines rise, and eternal optimist, Charity Hope Valentine, sets about rebuilding a broken heart and readying herself for life outside…other people’s apartments. More than fifty years after opening, Sweet Charity retains its innocence, and as we find ourselves in the new Age of Aquarius, we also find that the torrent of emotions and frustrations expressed here by writers Cy Coleman (music), Neil Simon (book) and Dorothy Fields (how about those how-about-it-palsy lyrics), against the foibles of love and the attentions of the patriarchy are, unsurprisingly, apt. 

 

 

Sweet Charity’s director, Kris Stewart knows musicals. Like, in case you didn’t already know, he KNOWS musicals. And with Dan Venz not only performing but choreographing too, Shanon Whitelock not only on keys but musically directing too, Ben Murray making flawless sound happen like the miracle it quite often appears to be in a Brisbane venue, and Maureen Bowra by his side as Co-Director and Associate Choreographer, Stewart must have have thrown his head back to the sky and laughed at how perfectly this team came together.

 

And in the intimacy of the Visy Theatre, the performers are close enough to let us in on their every nuance, which means the hyper-reality of Charity’s theatrical storytelling is nicely balanced with the authenticity of the performances. This is a must-see production, beautifully realised, and these performances, I guarantee it, are already among the best this year. 

 

 

 

The company on stage is the strongest we’ve seen in Brisbane since Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, which boasted among its cast members Charity (Naomi Price) and Vittorio (Andy Cook). The ensemble is also superb and so strong that we can’t help walking away thinking that luckily for Price, she is THAT good! To be outstanding in such convincing company is testament indeed to the carefully studied voice and accent, the commitment to the pigeon toes and other awkward angles, and the natural flair for character and comedy that Price possesses. I think she’s the funniest I’ve ever seen her when hidden in Vittorio’s wardrobe to keep out of sight of his lover, Ursula (Lizzie Moore, also at her comic best!).

 

Price really is Sweet Charity, embodying every gorgeous, ridiculous tendency offered by the original girl on the page, without adding so much sweet, sticky, tacky taffy that we’re repelled by her and compelled to pry her from between our fingers and flick her away. Instead, we find ourselves giggling with her, dancing through these little bits of life with her, and eventually wanting to leap into the lake with her! Charity always reminds me of Milly Molly Mandy, only she too often depends upon boys to get her out of a scrape and she needn’t be home for tea.

 

Through all her misadventures, we find ourselves hopelessly, irresistibly, infuriatingly, firmly in Charity’s corner. Sigh. Yes. We all have a disastrously sweet Charity in our life.

 

 

This show is a big show, with a big mood, recognised famously in If My Friends Could See Me Now, which Price smashes out of Central Park, but even so, we recognise that the dear girl’s plight each time is just another human one, and in the grand scheme of things, hers is another tiny story in the world. Really. Consider. Charity is flawed, and fine, just like the rest of us. But without feeling anything for Charity, without hoping against hope that she will find the love of her life and somewhere better than where she’s let herself be, we wouldn’t actually care whether or not she finds true love, or friendship, or ever even escapes from her seedy workplace. This tiny story has suitably high stakes and loads of heart. This is of course, the secret to making seemingly light, fluffy musical theatre material speak to a contemporary audience the way it was intended to. Or better yet, more clearly than ever. For the telling of this heartfelt, heartwarming story, Price is perfect. 

 

 

Big Spender introduces the sassy chorus of girls with whom Charity works. This is essentially, before it was ever imagined, the title song and bar scene from Miss Saigon, and their Fosse-esque posturing and pouting go a long way in painting the picture of this place, where the open set fails to do so (Set Design Joseph Noonan). Or does it? Others think it’s ideal, but I feel it’s lacking in detail and a mood distinct from several other scenes (Lighting Designer Christine Felmingham). The number, staged diagonally, isn’t as effective as it could be in this space and the dance, as obviously Fosse as it is, lacks the sophistication of the style, and the nuance of the acting, with the temptation to push it into an an aggressive, self-righteous attack on all men everywhere proving too great to resist. The slow burn of the number, no matter how many times we’ve seen it, is still in our full realisation of exactly what the job entails and how au fait the girls are with it, but there’s little space held here for our growing horror. Perhaps we’re no longer horrified. Perhaps that’s the point. Let’s settle with saying that the majority appear to be a little too eager to be anything but eager (deliberately, delightedly, genuinely nonchalant is incredibly difficult to pull off, it tends to come across as bored), although there’s a startling energy that I fail to pinpoint; someone whom likely fully wields their feminine power off stage as well as on. There’s always one. What leaves a deeper mark for me than the execution of the dance itself is that there are moments when the girls as a collective are fierce enough to make us realise that they don’t want to be there, and feel they don’t have a way out, and vulnerable enough to make us realise that they don’t want to be there, and feel they don’t have a way out. And there’s the reminder. Dancing without acting is just movement. 

 

There’s also a slight anomaly in the tears shed by both Nickie and Helene, as we simply haven’t been given a chance to see the friendships develop enough to warrant said tears. Perhaps this is the point, and even these relationships have been that shallow. The ensemble features legit triple threats, Emily Corkeron, Shay Debney, Irena Lysluk, Sophie Stephens, Kate Yaxley (who steps into Charity’s chorus shoes just for January 31), Hayley Winch (Helene), Lizzie Moore (Nickie) and Rebecca Rolle, who simply shines, it having been said already that it’s quite a feat to stand out in this superb ensemble. The men are equally impressive, with dance detail and character traits well considered and delivered (Elliot Baker, Carlo Boumouglbay, Luke Hodgson and Venz).

 

 

To make up for the apparent lack of consideration for the set design, Noonan has successfully dressed (or semi-dressed!) the company in super cute sixties outfits, right down to the minis and boots. The ensemble’s Off-Broadway revival inspired all-white-everything and precision execution of the peculiar choreography during this extended sequence transforms Rich Man’s Frug into a beautiful aesthetic, somewhere between My Fair Lady, James Bond and Austin Powers. There’s Gotta Be Somewhere Better Than This is missing the same level of attention to detail though, and with its passion intact, with pace, precision and a genuine connection between the girlfriends, should be another showstopper by the end of the season.

 

 

Stephen Hirst, as the adorable, unbearable Oscar Linquist, brings a special kind of warmth and weirdness to the role. He and Price are well matched, and we shouldn’t be at all surprised if someone else takes advantage in the casting of anything upcoming to reflect this. I’m the Bravest Individual is clearly a crowd favourite, such as it is, sung in the most awkward situations.

 

 

Other than Price-as-Charity, the highlight of the show is The Rhythm of Life featuring Elliot Baker, Whitelock’s sensational new arrangement, and some Hair inspired staging, undressing and choreography. A band in this space has never sounded better, thanks to Ben Murray (the band comprises Whitelock on keys, with Daniel Robbins, Conall O’Neill, Michael Whitaker, Lisa Squires and Alanna Ritchie). I’m surprised when this toe-tapping (foot-stomping) full company number is not reprised, such is the audience’s obvious thrill on opening night, to experience a reinvigorated version of it. I ‘reckon if you can secure closing night tickets you’ll get a second look! For me this entire sequence sums up the approach we see Understudy Productions taking to stage anything, inspiring a fresh look at some of the more familiar (and less so) stories on stage, and to do so in a way that not only moves and delights audiences, but reignites our local industry. 

 

Sweet Charity is the feel good show of the year; there’s not a more enjoyable or inspirational night out to start your theatre year, and trust me, it will sell out! Book here. Wouldn’t you like to have fun, fun, fun?

 

 


0 Responses to “Sweet Charity”



  1. Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: