Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Sweet Charity"

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note: entire contents copyright 2002 by Larry Stark


"Sweet Charity"

Conceived, Staged and Choreographed by Bob Fosse
Book by Neil Simon
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Based on "Nights of Cabiria" by Frederico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli. Ennio Placiano

Directed/Choreographed by Leslie Woodies
Music Director Wayne Ward

Lighting Design by Jeff Gardiner
Scenic Design by Ronald Dion
Sound Design by Alex Savitzky
Costume Designs by Richard Itczak, Gary Poholek
Wigs Courtney Furno
Stage Manager, Props Val Verge

Charity Hope Valentine......Pam Shapiro
Helene...........................Katherine Miles
Nickie...........................Jennifer Condon
Carmen.........................Nicole Gournas
Rosie................................Alexis Brown
Suzanne................... Carrie Van Meter
Frenchy..................................Mary Roy
Betsy...................................Elena Vitelli
Elaine................................Jamie Raposa
Herman/Policeman...............Mike Monte
Ursula March/Good Fairy...Jennifer Huth
Vitorio Vidal....................Michael Duarte
Charlie/Oscar Lindquist.......Gary Poholek
Daddy Brubek....................Corey Walker
Assistant to Daddy Brubeck.....Liza Levy

DANCERS
Aoife Barrington, Rebecca Levy, Stephen Cote, Brad Simanski

ENSEMBLE
Annita Brockney, Jason Gaffney, Ann Garvin, Al Marandola, Mike Ryan

ORCHEASTRA
Piano............................................................Wayne Ward
Guitars.................................Kevin Coyne, Brad Ellenberg
Percussion.................................................Steve Jounakos
Bass..................Corey DiMario, Robb Orr, Dave Weisman
Trumpet..................Tom Cupples, Andrew Sorg, Tim Cote
Trombones...Harlan Feinstein, Ed Ackerman, Brian Troiano
Woodwind............................Joyce Wahlberg, Heather Katz
Conductor.......................................................Wayne Ward

If you think you know "Sweet Charity" because you saw the movie, you've got a delightful surprise coming. The Turtle Lane production of this quirky comedy will send you out knowing a lot more about Bob Fosse, Gwen Verdon, and why this landmark show was such a hit than you'd believe possible. This crew quite simply puts the life back into this musical and makes its history live again. It's a gem!

Although he directed Shirley MacLane in the film late in his career, Fosse was learning how to make movies and throwing everything but the kitchen sink into it. After it, he could make "Lenny" and "Cabaret" and "All That Jazz" --- but the movie never got near this stage show's heart. And no wonder! When he made the musical his creative self was still uncoiling. After doing things for "Pajama Game" and "Damn Yankees" he finally had not only major artistic control (Conceived. Staged and Choreographed by Bob Fosse), but his beloved Gwen Verdon as the star on whom to lavish his inventive choreography. It was, in the old sense, his Master Piece that proved how great a talent he was.

[Late Addition: I must explain that Pam Shapiro's warmly exciting performance does not imitate Gwen Verdon; she is playing (excellently) Charity Hope Valentine. It's just that, in a very real way, Charity will always BE Gwen Verdon! ]

Oddly enough, everyone who plays Charity Hope Valentine has had a previous performer to outshine. Gwen had to follow Giulietta Massina's classic role in her husband's film "Nights of Cabiria"; then MacLane had to eclipse both of them for the film; and now Turtle Lane's Pam Shapiro has to make everyone forget all three of them to do the role --- and later next month when Jennifer Condon steps temporarily into the role ... guess what!

But Director/Choreographer Leslie Woodies has great people in her corner. The book is by Neil Simon --- no slouch in the comedy department! --- the jazzy music is Cy Coleman's, and there's Dorothy Fields, from whom lyrics spilled like oil gushing from a well. (Listen how her lyric "I'll be Sittin' at my Desk on the Forty-ninth Floor, in my Copy of a Copy of a Copy of Dior" nails the dance-rhythm for the song!) Then there's Wayne Ward to conduct it through Alex Savitsky's balanced sound system, on an intricately inventive Don Dion set under Jeff Gardiner's pinpoint lights with Richard Itczak and Gary Poholek's costumes --- all Turtle Lane regulars who know the theatre's quirks and advantages like the backs of their hands.

The plot is wedded to Charity's disaster-prone eternal optimism. After years in a tawdry "body-for-hire" taxi-dance hall, with too many deadbeat boyfriends who've stolen her money and thrown her over (the most recent into Central Park Lake as the show opens!) she's ripe to find "Something Better Than This" even if maybe it means lying a little about herself to get it. Her harder-nosed colleagues (Katherine Miles & Jennifer Condon) won't believe she's found true love --- but they never believe she spent the night in the famous Italian film star (Michael Duarte) Vitorio Vidal's bedroom (Okay, his closet! It's almost the same!), but she does. Why can't her dream man (Gary Poholek) be real?

Well, what if this giddy, goofy, gullible optimist begins and ends the show dancing her heart out alone in a solo spot? What if "The Rich Man's Frug" and "The Rhythm of Life" sweep her up and pass her by; doesn't she and a leggy chorus get to feel "I'm A Brass Band" --- don't all her bored fellow "dancers" waiting for "Big Spenders" really "Love to Cry at Weddings" and, if lightning strikes some day, won't she exclaim "If My Friends Could See Me Now!"? It ain't where ya start, it's where ya finish, and even at the end of this bubbly, dance-filled love-letter to life Miss Charity Hope Valentine ain't finished yet.

You might even want to see it again, cause she just might make it this time!

Love,
===Anon.


"Sweet Charity" (26 April - 2 June)
TURTLE LANE PLAYHOUSE
283 Melrose Street., MA
1(781)244-0169


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide

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