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A CurtainUp Review
Sweet Charity

There's gotta be something better than this.
There's got to be something better to do
. . .And if I find me something a half-wit can learn
I'm gonna get up I'm gonna get out I'm gonna get up
Get out and learn it

----- Nickie, Helene and Charity, bemoaning their dead end work as taxi dancers.
Christina Applegate & Denis O'Hare
Christina Applegate & Denis O'Hare
(Photo: Paul Kolnik)
The well-known actor's mantra to "break a leg" took on new meaning when Christina Applegate ended Sweet Charity's Boston run by literally breaking an ankle bone during one of her routines. If there were a Tony for guts and determination, Applegate's can-do recovery in time for the revival's official Broadway opening, would surely win her a statue hands down.

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

Sweet Charity Book by Neil Simon
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields, based on an original screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiao
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Choreographed by Wayne Cilento
Cast: Christina Applegate, Denis O’Hare, Krya DaCosta, Janine LaManna, Ernie Sabella, Shannon Lewis, Rhett George, Paul Schoeffler, Todd Anderson, Joyce Chittick, Tim Craskey, Dylis Croman, Anika Ellis, Bob Gaynor, Tyler Hanes, Manuel Herrera, Kisha Howard, Mylinda Hull, Reginald Holden Jennings, Amy Krawcek, Corrine McFadden, Marielys Molina, Timothy Edward Smith, Seth Stewart.
Set Design: Scott Pask Long
Costume Design: William Ivey Long
Lighting Design: Brian MacDevitt
Sound Design: Peter Hylenski
Music Director: Gordon Lowry Harrell
Orchestrations: Don Sebesky
Hair Design: Paul Huntley
Make-up Design: Angelina Avallone
Associate Director: Marc Brun
Associate Choreographers: Ted Banfalvi/Corinne McFadden
Additional musical and vocal arrangements: Michael Rafter
Additional dance arrangements: Jim Abbott
Music Director: Don York
Music Coordinator: John Miller
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission
Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 West 45th Street (8th/9th Avenues), 212-239-6200
From 4/11/05; opening 5/04/15
. Post opening performance schedule: Tuesday @ 8pm, Wednesday @ 2pm, Thursday & Friday @ 8pm, Saturday @ 2pm & 8pm, Sunday @ 2pm & 7pm
Tickets: Tickets: $101, $56.
Last performance Dec. 31 after279 performances and 25 previews.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on May 3 press performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Overture/Orchestra
  • You Should See Yourself/Charity
  • Big Spender / Nickie, Helene, Company
  • Charity's Soliloqui/Charity
  • Rich Man's Frug /Company
  • If My Friends Could See Me Now/Charity
  • Too Many Tomorrows/Vittorio
  • There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This/ Charity, Nickie, Helene
  • I'm Bravest Individual/ Charity & Oscar &
Act Two
  • Rhythm Of Life/Charity, Oscar, Daddy & Ensemble
  • A Good Impression/Oscar and the Quartet
  • Baby Dream Your Dream/Nickie and Helene
  • Sweet Charity/Oscar and Company
  • Big Spender (Reprise) / The Company
  • Where Am I Going/Charity
  • I'm a Brass Band//Charity & Company
  • I Love to Cry at Weddings/Herman and Company
  • I'm Bravest Individual/Charity
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