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A CurtainUp London Review
This time, Southwark has become New York for a revival of Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Field's musical Sweet Charity about a girl who works as a dance club hostess. It's based on the Fererico Fellini film Nights of Cabiria where the hapless girl who keeps falling in love is a prostitute.
Tamzin Outhwaite is best known as a television actor and although I have seen her in stage roles I had no idea that she was a singer and dancer too. She takes on the role of Charity with a voice with its Brooklyn New Yorkese, with glimpses of Donald Duck. She can sing, dance and act. Joining her as the group of women in the seedy dance club are some brilliant dancers like Ebony Molina, who has long worked with Matthew Bourne, and star singer dancers Josefina Gabrielle and Tiffany Graves. It's an exceptionally strong cast. Mark Umbers plays many of the men in Charity's life, the bag snatching Charlie of the first scene in the park where Charity gets pushed in the lake, the Italian filmstar heart throb, egotistical Vittorio Vidal and the Clark Kent-alike, wimpy Oscar Lundquist.
Stephen Mear has taken Bob Fosse's ground breaking choreography and kept many of the themes but freshened it with some original often balletic moves. The choreography is a triumph. "The Rich Man's Frug" sees Ebony Molina on a silver dress kicking it up and it's sensational, exciting and innovative. The opening number, "Big Spender," is sung and danced in the characteristically jaded fashion as these girls try to attract the 10 cent ticket holders for a dance but are incapable of showing anything except tedium. They are deliciously bored and it's very funny.
Cy Coleman's music has jazzy and blues influence as well as the inspiring ballads. The techno, percussion orchestrations tie in beautifully with the animated choreography and Dorothy Field's lyrics are lively and witty. A live eight piece band provide the perfect accompaniment.
The New York skyline backdrop is like that fuzzy, blue and impressionisti painting of London by Monet — again a fresh view. Fun too is Vitttorio's jokey bedroom with its four poster bed and a movie poster sized portrait of the actor with one simple ornament, an Oscar statuette. The costumes look expensive and are in the era with Charity's little shift dresses and a wonderful selection of hippie outfits with Paul J Medford's big Afro wig for the church scene.
Nickie (Josefina Gabrielle) and Helene (Tiffany Graves), the girls from the dance club sing "Baby Dream Your Dream" about reality and dreams as they remove their makeup at a dressing table, symbolic of who they really are under the cosmetics. My favourite number is the wonderfully anarchic and upbeat "Rhythm of Life" which here sees these very staring eyed hippies in the congregation of this San Francisco originating church led by Daddy (Paul J Medford). We're told that Oscar subscribed to a Church of the Month newsletter which is how he stumbled upon the Rhythm of Life Church. This section doesn't really tie in with the storyline other than giving Charity experience of another subgroup of society but it is so good that who cares whether it is relevant!
This production deserves a transfer to a wider audience and I'm looking forward to seeing it again!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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