Despite odd casting, AACT stages worthy 'Charity'
By CHRISTOPHER POTTER
NEWS ARTS WRITER_______
It isn’t at alt far-fetched to dub Fedrico Fellini’s “The Nights of Cabiria” the greatest soap opera ever put on film. At the same time one could never accuse its 1966 musical offshoot, “Sweet Charity,” of doing the same for the Broadway stage - certainly not the current Ann Arbor Civic Theatre revival which opened last night at Lydia Mendelssohn.
That’s not neccessarily a put-down, either. For what director/choreographer Jim Po-sante has given us is a funny, slam-bang, brassy-as-all-get-out show that’s surely an admirable artistic kin to creator Bob Fosse’s Big-Apple original.
What Civic’s “Charity” conspicuously lacks is pathos - and ironically, it’s pathos which stokes “Nights of Cabiria’s” claim to immortality. Despite its self-advertisement in oft-used vaudevillian signs as “the story of a girl who wanted to be loved,” there’s there’s scarcely a bathetic moment to be found in Po-sante’s “Charity.”
So up-tempo is this production that one would hardly guess Fellini’s movie chronicled the romantic disasters of a flinty yet heartbreakingly vulnerable Italian hooker.
Even Fosse and co-writer Neil Simon’s pseudo-softening of heroine Charity Hope Valentine to an NYC taxi dancer - whose adventures with men have scarcely been Park-Avenue pristine - never seems to come across as gloomy and doomy in Civic’s staging. So when our protagonist, belatedly hitched to the seemingly nice guy of her dreams, declares of her work-home, The Fandango Ballroom, “This is not a nice place!” one is a tad hard-pressed to glean why she’d think so.
That’s largely due to the very odd casting of actress Sue Booth as Charity. Bright and bubbly, the diminutive, chipmunk-cheeked Booth is about as far removed from a tarnished urban heroine as Syracuse is from Manhattan. The visual epitome of the “purity and innocence” her courtly yet neurotically straight-laced beau Oscar (John 0. Renken) ascribes to her, sweet Sue would make an infinitely more viable Little Mary Sunshine, Emily Webb, Laura Wingfield or even Dorothy Gale.
Anne B. Walker
(Betsy), ' Christy. Wright (Suzanne), Sue Booth (Charity), Madonna Thomas (Frenchy) and Sharon
Sussman (Helene), with Joni
Muskovitz (Elaine), center.
Yet for all that. Booth proves such a resourceful and energtic actress she still gives a sensational performance even if she’s all wrong playing a tart with a heart of gold. Flouncing, singing and dancing through life in a black mini-dress, she’s an irresistable presence - Ms. Optimist who, when asked by a worldly Italian movie star (Peter Rentes) whose apartment she ever-so-briefly shares, “Why do you believe in love?,” shrugs, “I dunno - you gotta have some religion.”
Rarely has such a miscast star provided such a rock-solid cornerstone for a production boasting a bevy of delights. Posante’s choreography - set to a terrifically pert score by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields -is very ’60s brassy, the perfect dance partner for conductor Jim Nissen’s inimitably Fos-sean pow-zap musical ensemble (And oh, that trumpet player - Dave Casswell by name).
Amid all the good works by a large cast, Renken stands out as the hilariously over-worshipful Oscar; Daniel Kitowski’s nasty/n-ice dance-hall boss is pure delight singing “I Love to Cry at Weddings,” while Sharon
Bianca Greene and Sharon Sussman sing and dance up a storm as Charity’s bosom ballroom buddies.
Chris Reising’s costumes drolly reflect the garishness of mid-late-’60s fashions, while Tod More and Theresa A. Stacy’s amorphous sets perfectly complement this mile-a-minute productiorf.
In other words, who says a show must be thematically “right” in order to be terrifically entertaining?
"Sweet Charity" continues through Saturday at Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. For ticket information call 662-7282.
Theater - Reviews
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