Emily Padgett, Sutton Foster, Asmeret Ghebremichael PHOTO
CREDIT: Monique Carboni
by Marc Miller
revel in the sturdy construction of this fine example of late-golden-era
musical making, which continued Gwen Verdon’s unbroken string of hits.
Masterminded by her then-husband, Bob Fosse, it adapted—and, many argued at the
time, took some of the edge off of—Federico Fellini’s 1957 “The Nights of Cabiria,”
a vehicle for his own then-wife, Giulietta Masina. Employing top talent—book,
Neil Simon; music, Cy Coleman; lyrics, an amazingly still-with-it Dorothy
Fields—the show told a rather downbeat tale, exposing its heroine, an aging
dance hall hostess, to endless indignities in her quest for true love, but
doing so with a steady stream of expert comic dialogue and tuneful, happy songs
like “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “I’m a Brass Band.”
As the title
character of the classic 1966 musical, Sutton Foster walks through much of Sweet
Charity with a dazed smile. It’s the uncertain grin of one battered by
circumstance, coping with an identity she doesn’t really want but grimly
determined to remain as rosy and optimistic as her name, Charity Hope Valentine.
It’s character-appropriate, and it suggests Foster and director Leigh Silverman
have given Charity, and Charity a lot of thought, eager to offer a more
nuanced, less upbeat reading of our heroine than some of her esteemed
predecessors. And it grows a bit monotonous. Foster does go on to offer more
colors and subtleties in this vest-pocket Charity but you have to wait
for them, and we do spend some of that time wishing she’d wipe that grin off
exuberance is rather muted in this New Group revival. It’s like Silverman, and
Foster and the rest of the not-that-large cast (some actors have six or seven
roles!), recognized that it is a period piece, and wanted to disavow its very
1966 view of the sexes. “We don’t dance, we defend ourselves to music,” cracks
one of Charity’s colleagues, and it’s like this company wanted to make sure the
audience knew that it didn’t approve of such attitudes.
keeps accentuating Charity’s vulnerability and humiliation. Charity usually
sings her opener, “You Should See Yourself,” to one lousy boyfriend (who pushes
her into Central Park Lake and steals her purse), but here she sings to three,
to stress how Charity keeps making bad choices in men and suffering for it.
Foster, in a terrible Doris Day wig and a pretty awful pink dress (costumes by
Clint Ramos, including an especially witty white Tom Wolfe/Andy Warhol ensemble
for “The Rich Man’s Frug”), seems to want us to weep for Charity. So does
Silverman, to the point of significantly rewriting the ending. The original rang
down with a projected title assuring us, after her failed engagement to Oscar
(Shuler Hensley here), “And she lived hopefully ever after.” None of that here.
The order is switched so that Charity ends on a bitter “Where Am I Going?”,
followed by repeated, despairing vocal murmurings of “You should see yourself…”
“You should see yourself…” as if she’d become deranged. It’s more like
Emily Padgett, Donald Jones, Jr., Sutton Foster, Joel
Perez, Cody Williams
As long as
it sticks to the original material, this Charity has a lot to offer.
Joshua Bergasse’s choreography, no slave to the Fosse angularity and finger
snaps, has some frisky ideas of its own, notably in “The Rich Man’s Frug” and
“There’s Gotta Be Something Better than This.” (He does botch what should be a terrific
production number, the trendy-religion satire “The Rhythm of Life.”) “Big
Spender” is suitably filthy, all come-hither movements and spread legs. Derek
McLane’s set design, while minimal, is well stocked with evocative ’60s
artifacts, and Leon Rothenberg’s sound design is a marvel of naturalism—you
really can’t tell if the actors are miked or not. Musical director Georgia
Stitt conducts a six-piece all-girl ensemble. Unfortunately it lacks brass, so when
an exuberant, finally engaged Charity sings “I’m a Brass Band,” there’s no
brass to back her. But, in a whimsical touch, there are kazoos.
Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley and cast
The cast? It
feels, first of all, underpopulated, though that does allow members to show off
their versatility. If there’s a breakout performer, it’s Joel Perez, a
hilarious and sturdy-voiced Vittorio Vidal (the Mastroianni-like movie star
Charity almost spends the night with), then Herman, her hard-driving but not
entirely unsympathetic boss. Nickie (Asmeret Ghebremichael) and Helene (Emily
Padgett), Charity’s co-worker girlfriends who urge her to “Baby, Dream Your
Dream,” are likable and capable without exhibiting any special edge. And
Hensley, while excellent—he nails the elevator scene as perhaps it has never
been nailed before—is a pudgy, sweaty Oscar; you feel for this decent, nervous
man wrestling with his moral values and trying to commit to a less-than-pure
love object, but you can’t help but feel maybe Charity could do better.
Foster, a consummate musical theater pro who, in other roles, has been called
on to display resolve (Little Women), confidence and brassiness (Anything
Goes), daffiness (The Drowsy Chaperone), and conventional-heroine pluck
(Thoroughly Modern Millie). Here she’s asked to embody, above all else,
vulnerability, and that’s not a natural fit on her. She sings well, kicks her
leg high a lot because she can, and lands a lot of the many laughs in Simon’s
model libretto, but she’s just stronger than your average Charity. Coleman’s
jazz chords and rhythms are as nifty as ever, and Fields’s work remains a
wonder: Really, how did this woman, who began her career in the ’20s writing
romantic pleasantries like “Gee, I’d like to see you looking swell, Baby,”
graduate to “I don’t pop my cork for every guy I see”? This isn’t an ideally
cast or sized Sweet Charity, but in these dark days, we’ll relish the Sweet
Charity we can get.
8 at the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 W. 42nd St. For
tickets, visit "
time: 2 hours 20 minutes with one intermission.