Since first produced more than 40 years ago, "Sweet Charity" has undergone an unfortunate metamorphosis from the sweetly sentimental to the downright treacly. Granted, Cy Coleman's music and Dorothy Fields' lyrics combine in some memorable standards ("If They Could See Me Now," "Big Spender") and certainly one can imagine the sheer excitement generated when Bob Fosse's original Tony-winning choreography was first performed. But Neil Simon's book, although recently tweaked for the 2005 Broadway revival, has sprouted mold atop the syrup.
The musical is based on Federico Fellini's 1957 film, "Nights of Cabiria," a picaresque about a waifish Italian prostitute's romantic misadventures on the streets of Rome. It's noteworthy that, in the musical, a laborious point is made of the fact that Charity Hope Valentine, the spunky protagonist, is merely a taxi dancer who sells only her "time," never her body, to lonely customers.
FOR THE RECORD: "Charity" character: A review in Friday's Calendar section of "Sweet Charity" at the Madrid Theatre in Canoga Park said that Charity's love interest was named Herman and that he was played by Dan Davis. The character's name is Oscar, and he is played by Stephen Vendette. Herman is the manager of the dance hall where Charity works. —
No matter. Charity may not be a lady of the evening, but she fails the "purity" standards of her beau, Herman, who jettisons her at the altar, leaving her to pick up the pieces of her broken heart once again.
It's a given that any production of the show rises and falls with the actor who plays Charity, the star vehicle that Fosse nurtured for his then wife, Gwen Verdon. Jaclyn Miller, who plays Charity at the Golden Performing Arts Center in the Madrid Theatre, brings considerable pizazz to the role, so much so that she almost erases the dismal memory of Molly Ringwald's recent national tour.
Miller plays Charity not so much as a dithering victim but as a straightforward dame. Still, she can't quite overcome the disconnect between Charity's personality and her actions in this cheerfully sexist bagatelle, which presupposes that all its downtrodden female characters are in a sad fix because they just haven't hooked up with the right guys. And, since they are "damaged goods," they're not likely to either.
Sara Andreas and Chelsey Whitelock are also fine as Charity's best friends and fellow taxi dancers, as is Dan Davis as Charity's nebbishy admirer, Herman, who would today be diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder and prescribed appropriate drugs. Joe Joyce's staging is sprightly and well-paced, and Gerry McIntyre's attempts to re-create Fosse's original choreography meet with considerable success. The design elements are of a high standard, and Paul Taylor's musical direction is spot-on, despite an occasionally rough-edged orchestra. In all, this impressive effort bodes well for the future of this resident company in its handsomely refurbished Canoga Park venue.
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