This was a rather bittersweet musical. I liked it well enough but probably wouldn’t feel a need to see it again.
Originally posted on The AU Review.
“Without love, life has no purpose”, says our naïve protagonist- a young woman by the name of Charity. She is a not-too-bright optimist, an imaginative romantic and a dancer-for-hire at a Times Square dance hall. In Sweet Charity we follow her endless search for a man who loves her, and an opportunity to get out of the dark dingy life she lives.
We walk into the theatre and into the Fandango Ballroom. The lighting is dingy and the room smokey and the girls call to us from the stage- promising a good time and some laughs. Their rather minimal costumes give us an indication of each of their characters- from the pretty in pink to the seasoned high black boots.
The stage is a fairly small space, half of which is taken up by the on-stage band and another section by the onstage wardrobe. Oh yes, the cast change in and out of costumes right there on the stage! The cast is mostly on stage for the entire performance and they really use this small space effectively. The main props are two large mirrors that are wheeled around like blackboards. One side is reflective and the other opaquely see-through, and they are used to great effect to see actor’s faces when their backs are to us, or for us to watch the actors as they peer through the screen side.
This is a musical that allows the audience to really be animated and there is lots of raucous laughter and cheers for our sexy ladies (with a lot more respect than their characters would receive of course!). It’s a super fun show to watch with incredible amounts of energy throughout the whole performance. And the storyline is intriguing with just the right amount of unpredictability to keep you glued right to the end.
We are introduced to Miss Charity first, and oh boy does Verity Hunt-Ballard give a fantastic performance. Your heart absolutely breaks for Charity- yes she is very much the fool, and whether she learns from her mistakes is very much to be seen, but she is kind-hearted and hopeful in a dark place and you can’t help but wish more for her. Her lace dress and push-up bra are less than flattering, as is her heart tattoo on her shoulder, but her mega-watt smile is all Charity needs. On stage for almost the entire show, Verity belts out heartfelt piece after piece, and dances across stage like it’s nothing. Occasionally the power and emotion in Verity’s voice takes you by surprise, as something you wouldn’t expect from the crass Charity, but it’s wonderful.
Charity’s relationship with her fellow dancing girls is amusing and sweet, as they tease and bicker like sisters. The girls get out some hilarious lines, and it’s intriguing to watch as they offer their goods to potential buyers before returning to casually converse amongst themselves when no customer is around. The girls frankly describe their profession as “defending themselves to music”. Their early piece “Hey Big Spender” was one of my favourites, as the girls belt out and try to seduce us audience members with their voices and charms.
The standout is of course Debora Krizak, who plays the dancing girl Nickie as well as Oscar’s demanding mistress Ursula. In both roles she is utterly captivating, incredibly amusing and overwhelming talented. She is able to bring you so close to her characters, with attention to the smallest mannerisms, that they become so believable. And those legs! Whew!
Back at the Fandango the girls are leaving for the day, walking swiftly past and pulling on coats over their “uniforms”. On the street Charity by chance meets the famous film star Vittorio Vidal who is chasing after his mistress Ursula. He is pleading with her to return to the club, but when she refused, Vidal drags the willing Charity instead. The club is in sharp contrast with the Fandago, with odd black and white checkered costumes and peculiar side masks and the oddest dance moves. Charity unabashedly dances about in her own style until she faints (not having eaten since breakfast) and Vidal takes her back to his apartment.
Charity is star struck by Vidal, but Ursula soon arrives at the apartment and Charity is forced to coach Vidal to get Ursula back before hiding herself in the wardrobe. A story Charity’s friends have trouble believing the next day.
The girls begin to dream of the alternative careers they hope for, which eventually pushes Charity towards a job search agency. When she answers “no” to all the questions, the agent believes she was sent to him as a joke and is unintentionally cruel about her lack of education or skill. Beaten, she enters an elevator with an apparently nervous man. The elevator breaks down and the man, Oscar Lindquist, begins to panic as a result of his claustrophobia. Charity calms him down with her own personal motto- “I’m the Bravest Individual” and the two are eventually rescued. Oscar invites Charity to go to church with him, and she hesitatingly agrees.
Both Vidal and Oscar are played by Martin Crewes, and what a talent! The two characters could not be more different, but in both roles he is absolutely perfect. His vocal range is astounding, and his solo “Too Many Tomorrows” was my favourite piece. His singing comes through beautifully after the harsh crassness we’ve previously heard up to this point. His characters go through so many abrupt emotional transformations, and he keeps up with them perfectly. Going from playboy confidence to insecurity and unabashed terror, to harsh aggressiveness, all the while keeping the audience with him. You love him and you hate him and you can’t watch him and you can’t look away. He’s fabulous.
Returning into Act Two Oscar and Charity are now dating. They attend the “church” gathering and the Coney Island amusement park together. Charity is not open with Oscar about her profession however, and this soon begins to weigh down on her. Becoming increasingly frustrated Charity screams that she quits the Fandango and meets with Oscar to tell him the truth. But Oscar reveals he already knows, but he doesn’t care and wants to marry her.
This is the happiest moment of the musical, as we celebrate Charity’s finally finding her love. And that’s what you the audience begin to believe, that our protagonist is going to get her ‘Pretty Woman’ happily ever after, which makes it all the more jarring and breaking as the musical concludes suddenly on a once again alone Charity. Oscar has decided he cannot forget her past life, to which Charity desperately pleads with him that there are “certain things a person can’t change because they’re history”. She is falling apart, and Oscar is screaming and losing all of his façade of a sweet clueless man and you’re shocked and it’s over and you don’t know what to think but it’s definitely something emotional.
Our heartbroken Charity sings “no matter where I run I meet myself there” and your heart breaks right along with her. But she gets up, and her gaze is upwards out towards the audience as the stage fades out to black.
Sweet Charity is a brilliant piece of musical cabaret that director Dean Bryant has done a fabulous job with. It is all about Charity’s hopeful search for meaning in her dingy life, a meaning she believes will come through the “affections” of the men she continues to meet. She is optimistic, despite being constantly abandoned, and never gives up on finding that love. For without love, life has no purpose.