‘Sweet Charity’ is among Fosse’s best work, but it’s starting to show its age
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“Sweet Charity” is peak Bob Fosse, the absolute Fossiest of all Bob Fosse shows. The all-important choreography is a hypnotic, sinewy sizzling barrage of isolated undulations. The girls of the Fandango Ballroom are down for a party, and it’s not to sell Arbonne.
Wisely, director/choreographer Alex Sanchez keeps the sexed-up sensibility fueling Fosse’s original choreography intact in the Marriott Lincolnshire’s staging of “Sweet Charity.”
When: Through Oct. 28
Where: Marriott Lincolnshire, 10 Marriott Dr., Lincolnshire
Run time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, including one intermission
But despite spectacular dancing and a five-alarm ensemble, “Sweet Charity” is tough to wholly recommend. Set in the mid-1960s, (book by the late Neil Simon, based on Federico Fellini’s screenplay “Nights of Cabiria”), the plot is a drag, man. Not even Cy Coleman’s marvelously executed score (which includes iconic numbers such as “Hey, Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now”) can compensate for the problems glaring out from the character of Charity Hope Valentine.
Charity (Anne Horak, all lithe grace and firecracker charisma) is young New Yorker with the fresh-faced appeal of a Noxzema commercial and an effortless sex appeal that make today’s supposed “It girls” (think the sisters Kardashian or Hadid) look like they’re trying way too hard.
Horak has a fabulously funny leading man in Alex Goodrich. As the nebbish, neurotic (but ultimately loathsome) Oscar, Goodrich has comic timing fine enough to set the atomic clock. Make note of their scene in a stalled elevator. When you watch Oscar melt into a puddle of claustrophobia-induced perspiration and weeping anxiety, you are watching a masterclass in funniness. You will be sad when the elevator finally lurches to a start.
Also upping the ante: the almighty powers of Kenny Ingram, who plays Daddy Brubeck, the leader of an underground church. Ingram’s Brubeck is magnificent cross of Alan Ginsberg, James Baldwin and early Cher, with a splash of Sammy Davis Jr. and Andy Warhol. He puts the rhythm in “The Rhythm of Life.” If all churches were led by Daddy Brubeck, more people would believe in Something Larger than themselves.
“Sweet Charity” also sounds terrific. Under musical supervisor Patti Garwood, Coleman’s score is positively groovy. The iconic opening of “Hey, Big Spender” (you know it: Bump-bump-a-dum-bump-bump!”) is ridiculously carnal, and the lush intricacies “Where Am I Going” gleam.
Hand-in-glove (or feet in go-go boots, if you prefer) with the music is Sanchez’s Fosse-inspired choreography and the cast’s execution of it. Horak’s verve and grace make “I’m a Brass Band” pulse with joy. The ensemble’s “Rich Man’s Frug” captures an Upper East Side soiree where the elite are determined to be cool as well as rich.
But the show’s considerable assets cannot overcome the plot. Which is this: Charity Hope Valentine works a “taxi dancer.” She and her colleagues are on display like meat in a deli case, hoping to sell themselves to the men who come to the ballroom. Mostly, the girls dance with the men, but sometimes they make extra coin by engaging in “extracurricular” activities. Their highest aspirations are to A.) get married; or B.) be a hatcheck girl.
Unlike the cynical jades she works with, Charity has the heart of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She’s quirky and generous and seems to exist solely to help sad men find joy. Or, at least, to help them pay their bills. She’s a tired variation on the hooker-with-the-heart-of-gold cliché, with a hefty dose of Manic Pixie Dream Girl tossed annoyingly in.
In the opening scene, Charity gets her purse stolen and is pushed into a lake in Central Park. As she screams, a gaggle of New Yorkers stand and watch, some buying ice cream as Charity flails and yells for help.
“Sweet Charity” is set in the mid-1960s, and the Charity-in-the-lagoon scene doesn’t seem funny today so much as shockingly tone deaf.
Later, Charity puzzles over her life and her inability to find a man and get married. She says something very close to this: “Son, many things keep happening to me, and I don’t know why or how.”
That sums up the problem. Charity isn’t an active person in her own life. She’s buffeted hither and yon by men she meets by chance. Midway through, you just want to tell her to do . . . something — go to night school, get a library card, go on an EST retreat. But she doesn’t. The script calls this lack of action “living hopefully ever after.” I call shenanigans.
Catey Sullivan is a freelance writer.