Reviewed by Tony Annicone
Theatre-by-theSea director Jerome Vivona takes the 1960's musical "Sweet Charity" and infuses it with new life for current day audiences. He uses slides of New York City and overhead titles to let the crowd know what's happening in the life of the ever optimistic dance hall girl, Charity Hope Valentine. With 19 multitalented cast members, excellent music, choreography and right on 1960's costumes, this is a show not to be missed.
Director Vivona knows how to create picture postcard scenes in his productions and this show is no exception. Some of the tableau settings include the "Big Spender" scene with the girls on the dance barre, the "Rich Man Frug" dance segment which includes "Laugh In" type vinettes with superb dancing and freezes during the dialogue, the "Rhythm of Life" scene complete with hippie free love faux religion groupies and the exquisite "I'm a Brass Band" dance number with Charity and the male dancers. He knows how to get the best out of his performers throughout the evening. Vivona is aided in his task by musical director, Jay Atwood and choreographer,Kyle Craig. Jay leads the orchestra splendidly from the exciting and energetic overture to the finale. He makes his singers shine in their solos, duets and group numbers enhanced by the powerful accompaniment of the instruments with Jay not only conducting but also playing first keyboard. His assistant music director, Karl Shymanovitz, only a senior in college also is the music director of the after show Cabaret. He is an excellent pianist who can make uptempo numbers and ballads soar making the singer soound the best they can. A very talented young man who is already making his mark in musical theater. Last but not least is the choreography of this dancing show by Kyle Craig. She captures the flavor of the dances of the 1960's especially the outstanding "Rich Man's Frug" number. Vivona's black and white scenery and costumes with all the girls in black wigs help create the perfect mood for this long and excellently executed dance segment. Some other dances Kyle uses include the tango(with Ed Matias as Marvin, the perfect foil for Charity's anger in the number as he is thrown back and forth and finally offstage) in "Charity's Soliloquy", the polka in "I Love to Cry at Weddings" and a marching type of dance in "I'm a Brass Band" number. Jerome, Jay and Kyle's work blend together to create this evening of enjoyment.
Sally Mae Dunn makes the ever hopeful, Charity into a person you want to see find happiness. She wears a red wig making her look like a young Shirley MacLaine. Sally handles the top hat and cane dance in "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and the energetic brass band song dance with ease. She also tugs at your heartstrings in the poignant "Where Am I Going" number. Sally handles the comic (smoking in the closet while an Italian actor is wooing his girlfriend with a romantic song) and dramatic aspects of her huge role very well earning her a standing ovation as her reward.
The most versatile performer in this show is Michael McEachran who plays the three men in Charity's life. This young man delivers the Neil Simon one liners perfectly earning laughter after each one especially when he plays Oscar trapped in the elevator. This scene is usually a throw away scene but Michael and Sally make it dynamite. His nervous behavior, sweating and trying to disrobe to try to get some extra air are hilarious. Michael not only is an excellent actor having just finished "Little Me" with Martin Short, he shows off his superb singing voice as Oscar in his duet with Sally, "I'm the Bravest Individual" and the "Sweet Charity" song and as Vittorio with his beautiful ballad, "Too Many Tomorrows". Michael makes each of his roles different from one another. He plays the narssicistic first boyfriend, Charlie without saying a word but by giving a lot of attitude and wearing sunglasses. As Vittorio, he oozes charm and uses a wonderful Italian accent to portray the Latin lover. Michael's biggest role is Oscar and he handles it beautifully from the hilarious elevator scene to Coney Island to his finally leaving Charity. A very talented actor who is destined to play bigger and better roles in the very near future
. Playing her two closest friends in the dance hall are Laurie Gamache as Nickie and Greta Martin as Helene. They sparkle in their trio with Charity, "There's Gotta Be Something Better than This" which is also a dynamic dance number and in their duet, "Baby, Dream Your Dream". The latter is at first a sarcastic look at Charity's relationship with her new boyfriend and near the end of the song becomes a wistful ballad because the two girls want the same things Charity wants. Laurie and Greta do a good job as the spitfire friends. Playing Herman, the owner of the dance hall and many other roles is Michael Farina. He is a very funny character actor with an excellent tenor voice which he uses in "I Love to Cry at Weddings"(the high tenor harmony by Paul Ashley is splendid, too) Michael does a great job in all his roles. Another scene stealer is Erick Pinnick as Big Daddy, the religious leader who's church is called the Rhythm of Life. Since the show is set in the mid 60's his religion is sex, drugs and rock and roll. Erick and the chorus are wonderful in this hippie sequence complete with a car on the stage.
This show is an ensemble piece requiring strong performances from both the female and male chorus. Both groups contain excellent singers, dancers and actors who finally get a chance to show their stuff in the final show of the season in multiple roles. The girls are fantastic with great facial expressions in "Big Spender" and fabulous dance moves in the frug scene while clad in very tiny, micro, mini skirts. Elizabeth Ormond plays Vittorio's bitchy Italian girlfriend, Ursula and Frenchy using superb accents in each role. Other dance hall girls include Elizabeth Polito(dance captain) as Carmen, Vanessa McMahan as Betsy, Michelle Pruiett as Elaine, Charly Seamon(who sings the bluesy cabaret song "Another Mr. Right" and the comic duet "Popcorn" with Paul Ashley rubbing against her boobs) as the cigarette smoking, Roxanne, Suzannah Taylor as Suzanne and Natalie Weld as Violet and Rosie, the new girl. The male chorus contains outstanding dancers, too especailly in the frug number with the girls and in the brass band song. The athletic dancer, Lou Castro plays Daddy's assistant and the lead dancer in the boxing part of the frug. He leaps all over the place and boxes at the same time. Paul Ashley plays married man in the show and finally gets to show off his amazing tenor voice on the mainstage in the wedding song. (He sings the "Popcorn" duet with Charly and the very moving "She Cries" number in the cabaret.) Edward Matias gets to do some comedy as Marvin and the loud mouth man in the park and angry man at the elevator. (He also has a powerful singing voice using it to deliver the cabaret song, "What is it about Her?) Nick Pramik plays the cop and one of the hippies delivering his comic lines and dance steps wonderfully. John Raterman plays multiple roles in this show and gets to show off his voice in the cabaret in two difficult Sondheim songs while preparing "This is the Moment" from "Jekyll and Hyde". This talented young man will be touring the country in the chorus of "Funny Girl", so be sure to look for him when it gets to your town. Last but not least is the multitalented, Robert Spring who plays the Spanish young man in the show but shows more of his skills off in the cabaret by accompanying himself on the piano while singing a very poignant "I Don't Believe in Hero's Anymore". These talented ensemble members deserve a well earned pat on the back by doing a lot of hard work to make the show a success.( Seven of them have been doing hard work at TBTS all season long. Kudos to Vanessa, Charly, Suzannah, Natalie, Paul, John and Robert.)
Added praise to scenic designer, Jeff Modereger for moveable sets, to lighting designer, Peter West for the mood lighting, to Patrick Bevilacqua for the authentic 1960's costumes from the minis to the beatnik and hippie garb and Fan Dango outfits(the girls and the guys stuff especially all the LOUD colored jackets) and to sound designer, Walter Trarbach who keeps the body mikes and the cabaret mikes working. (He also sings and moves very well in the cabaret, doing "South of the Border" while doing some hilarious pelvic thrust movements.) Another hard working person who deserves a round of applause is cabaret director, Jimmy Carroll. He is not only the emcee but a performer, too. He opens with "Comedy Tonight", does a difficult song about all the countries of the world, an ode to his "girlfriend", "Sara Lee"(a comic number about the baked goods of the Sara Lee company) and the closing song, "Shake It Up, Baby". Jimmy and Karl work the cabaret well together and both of them are tremendously talented.
So for an evening of fun filled entertainment be sure to head down to Matunuck for the closing show of this summer season, "Sweet Charity". You won't be disappointed, just tell them Tony sent you. Looking ahead to next season's shows, the hard working producers, Laura Harris, Renny Serre and Marcy Simpson are already preparing the lineup of ANTHING GOES, FOOTLOOSE, JEKYLL & HYDE and SMOKEY JOE'S CAFE for their faithful audiences. Thanks for quality summer shows.