Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
Until Saturday 28th January, 2017
Originally conceived, staged and choreographed by the great Bob Fosse back in 1966, Neil Simon (book), Cy Coleman (music) and Dorothy Fields’ (lyrics) Broadway classic, Sweet Charity defined an era with its poignant tale of ill-fated romance and bold, hit-filled score, featuring the likes of such musical theatre classics as Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now and Rhythm of Life.
Brilliantly directed by Derek Bond – who returns to the theatre following last season’s Little Shop of Horrors – Sweet Charity proves yet another outstanding revival from the Royal Exchange Theatre, rounding off their 2016 season in suitably triumphant style.
Based on Federico Fellini’s screenplay for his Italian neo-realist drama, Nights of Cabiria (Le notti di Cabiria), Sweet Charity follows the bittersweet romantic endeavours of New York City dance hall hostess Charity Hope Valentine, a naive and good-spirited young woman, constantly searching for love, but with an unfortunate habit of falling for the wrong men. As her dance-hall colleague tells her, “You run your heart like a hotel. You’ve always got people checking in and checking out“.
It is one of the most celebrated and cherished musical comedies of the 1960s, yet Sweet Charity‘s promises of fun, laughter and happiness last only very briefly, and ultimately it’s a story tinged with sadness and sorrow. Despite Charity’s sparkling personality, her chirpiness and resilience often feel forced, and her inescapable vulnerability is clear to see. She seems destined never to find true happiness, and we as an audience can do nothing but watch on, ever hopeful for her success. Look beyond the superficial glitz and glamour of the stage and you see a much darker tale, one filled with heartless opportunists and taxi dancers desperate to escape the abusive regulars that frequent the Fandango Ballroom. “Who dances? We defend ourselves to music” one of the women sharply states to a new, young dancer.
Kaisa Hammarlund is an absolute joy as the ever-optimistic yet utterly defenceless Charity. It is a real star-making turn, enhanced by pitch-perfect characterisation and the constant wave of energy and emotion that drives her performance.
There are strong performances too from Daniel Crossley as the neurotic and claustrophobic Oscar, Sévan Stephan as seedy Dance-Hall manager Herman (amongst others), Cat Simmons and Holly Dale Spencer as Charity’s collegaues and closest allies Helene and Nickie, and Bob Harms as the dashing, moustachioed Italian movie star Vittorio Vidal. Charity’s unexpected visit to Vidal’s lavish apartment makes for a truly inspired piece of stagecraft.
Choreographer Aleta Collins and Designer James Perkins make excellent use of the Exchange’s in-the-round space, moving seamlessly through the various settings – from Central Park to Dance Hall, Coney Island and Elevator (to name just a few) – carefully ensuring both the rhythm and fluidity of the piece remain fully intact. Loosely adapted from the original Fosse choreography, Collins effectively honours the slick use of isolation and sharp, jaunty physicality for which Fosse is renowned.
Led by Musical Director Mark Aspinall – the 9-strong on-stage band – visible behind a glass booth – are on excellent form, though issues with sound/microphone levels meant vocals were at times drowned out.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.
Final Performance at The Royal Exchange Theatre: Saturday 28th January, 2017
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