Led by the very talented and adorable Pam Shapiro, "Sweet Charity" was indeed a charming and engaging production at the Turtle Lane Playhouse. Having never been to Turtle Lane before, I was struck by the warm feeling of community-theater and commitment to high performance standards. From the fantastic choreography, creative costumes, interesting lighting and outstanding performances almost every element of the show was produced with careful attention to detail. Overall, the production quality of the show was very good and the entire cast and crew are to be commended for their tremendous effort.
From a technical standpoint, the show's lighting and set design were very effective, however, the absence of a front spotlight was missed. The set was very creative and painted with artistic precision. In general, the sound quality was mildly disappointing. Despite the intimate nature of the theater, it was difficult to hear certain dialogue and lyrics. Also, the orchestra was fine but the speakers emitted a "canned" sound. From the moment the first stage light hit Charity Hope Valentine, sweetly played by Pam Shapiro of Mansfield, the audience was enchanted by her lovable personality and wonderful dancing. Such a switch from Pam's previous roles like Aldonza in "Man of La Mancha" or Anita in "West Side Story"!
The show absolutely took flight during the "Big Spender" number. The comic timing of the dance hall hostesses was great and their deadpan enthusiasm was hilarious. The choreography and skill of the dance ensemble was superb. Special recognition goes to Jaime Raposa. There's always one member of the chorus that draws the audience's eye and her facial expressions coupled with her dance style were outstanding.
Nickie, played with gusto by Jennifer Condon and Helene, played well by Katherine Miles were certainly both a force to be reckoned with. Condon and Miles' crystal clear voices shot through the audience and every word was understandable. Both ladies maintained a strong stage presence and their New York accents were appropriately thick. Condon is also the understudy for Charity. The relationship between these two girls and Charity was sincere and fun to watch.
Charity happens to bump into one of her favorite movie stars Victorio Vidal, played with suave charm by Michael Duarte. He's just had an argument with his jealous girlfriend Ursula March, played by the statuesque Jennifer Hurth. When she's out of the way, Charity grabs her chance to spend an evening with Victorio at the swanky nightclub. The ensuing three-part dance was a fantastic piece of choreography and a highlight of the evening.
Inside Victorio's lush apartment (nicely decorated, complete with a stocked bar and animal prints on the bed) Shapiro's comic timing really shines. "If They Could See Me Now" was simply great. In a song with so much movement that it would leave almost anyone panting and gasping for air, Shapiro not only showed off her tremendous dance talent but her vocal skills as well. This was by far the strongest solo number in the show.
Unfortunately, it provided such a climatic point that I wished Act I ended there. I may be totally alone on this one, but I felt that the first act was too long and the intermission was misplaced.
Nevertheless, the elevator scene with Charity and Oscar, played to perfection by area favorite Gary Poholeck, was a delight. Poholeck successfully captured the manic emotions of Oscar's conflicted personality. He has a wonderful singing voice and is a truly gifted actor. The chemistry between Shapiro and Poholeck was dazzling. The audience instantly sees what the characters don't…that they were made for each other. Finally, it seems that Charity has found her Prince Charming, albeit a neurotic and kooky one. This zany mix is exemplified in "Rhythm of Life." Corey Walker's vocal performance as Daddy Brubeck was entertaining and he was the epitome of cool. Although the choreography and costumes were interesting, the vocal quality of the chorus could use a little tuning up in this number.
As the relationship between Charity and Oscar deepens we see that, although they are emotionally well suited, Charity's physical past might be too much for the unbalanced Oscar to handle. Poholeck skillfully portrays the angst and confusion, which leads him to his decision to break off the engagement. Ultimately, the audience is just as distraught as Charity when Oscar leaves her. Charity's pitiful calls for help as she once again tries to swim to shore after being thrown in the lake, are heartbreaking. "Where am I Going" was so delicately sung to the audience that anyone of us would have gladly taken sweet Charity home with us. Happily, as it is the case in most musical comedies, the show ends with Charity's steadfast resolve to make it on her own.
The friendly box office attendant and the lovely photo display helped create a welcoming atmosphere. If you are in the mood for an uplifting and enjoyable evening of high quality community-theater, I whole-heartedly recommend a night at the Turtle Lane Playhouse in Newton, MA. The show runs through June 2nd and tickets are $21.00. For details, please call the box office at 617-244-0169, 11:00-5:30 weekdays, 12-5 weekends. Enjoy the show!