A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Applegate best known for her roles in Married . . . With Children and Friends, is as pretty and perky a Charity as the role's originators (Gwen Verdon on stage, and Shirley McLaine on screen). Even with the recently broken ankle, cleverly supported by cast-like boots that blend with her hoisery, she's also an energetic hoofer -- not great, but better than adequate. Though her singing voice is on the so-so side, she knows how to deliver a song and she is an excellent comedienne and fully evokes the vulnerability of a girl so desperate for love that she tends to stumble into one deadend relationship after another. Above all, she's extremely likable.
This is a big, magic marker bright production with plenty of talent. Janine LaManna as the sardonic Nickie and Krya DaCosta as Helene are well cast as Charity's best friends at the Fandango. Then there's Denis O'Hare who looks a little like a young Tony Randall in The Odd Couple as the full of ticks anti-heroic Oscar. O'Hare isn't much of a singer but his comic timing is superb. He's on the mark from the moment the romantic sparks between him and Charity are ignited in a stalled elevator to the bracingly feminist finale. Paul Schoeffler brings the right touch of movie star flamboyance to the hilarious scene in which Charity's happenstance meeting with him lands her in the room-sized closet of his luxurious apartment while he makes love to his jealous girl friend Ursula (Shannon Lewis).
The Neil Simon book is, of course, pretty much a flimsy excuse for everyone in this large cast to kick up their heels and sing Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields' indestructibly catchy songs -- some of which, like "Big Spender", will be familiar even to those who haven't seen the show live or on screen. When it comes to the dancing, anyone expecting a replay of Bob Fosse's stylish freeze frame dances is in for a surprise. (Fosse directed as well as choreographed both the original Broadway production and the film version). Director Walter Bobbie, who also helmed the long running, 100% Fosse-fueled Chicago, has opted to let choreographer Wayne Cilento put his own imprint on this production. There are nods to Fosse all over the place, as when Charity does her top hat and cane routine and sings her best number, "If They Could See Me Now." (Who but Dorothy Fields could pen a verse like "To think the highest- brow/Which I must say is he/ Should pick the lowest-brow/Which there's no doubt is me/What a step-up. . .holy Cow!/They'd never lelieve it/If my friends could see me now!"). The tips of the hat to Fosse notwithstanding, Cliente is his own man. His choreography is lively and fun to watch even if it doesn't eclipse the master of choreographic stylishness.
While the Barrington Stage production I saw last year was more true to the Fosse sensibility, it was much more modestly staged. Both Boyd (the Barrington director) and Bobbie included the overly busy "Rhythm of Life" which seems to belong in some other show (the one-scene Daddy Brubeck character who leads it got equal billing for Sammy Davis Jr. in the movie).
Not unusual for a musical revival, songs have been moved and assigned to different characters. Thus, Nickie and Helene and the Company do "You Should See Yourself" without Applegate, giving her a chance to rest up for her "Charity's Soliloquy." Denis O'Hare gets a new song, "A Good Impression", which is said to have been pulled from composer Cy Coleman's trunk before he died, and Ernie Sabella's Herman has his turn in the spotlight with "Love to Cry at Weddings. "
This show has a particuarly fine overture which music director Don York and his ochestra play with gusto -- unfortunately a bit too much so. It's as if York feels the need to raise the decibel level to compensate for today's budget-conscious smaller pit orchestras. Scott Pask's sets are bright and often amusing (my favorite and probably everybody else's: the train-long couch in Vittorio Vidal's apartment and the all red painting that lighting designer Brian MacDevitt at one point ingeniously sets ablaze). William Ivey Long's costumes are, as always, flattering and right on the button. It all adds up to a good time show designed to encourage tourists and anyone with a yen for an old-fashioned musical chockablock with memorable tunes to be "a big spender" and invest in a ticket.
For more details about Charity's quest for a better life, see my review of the Barrington Stage Production
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.