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Sweet Charity

a Musical Comedy
by Book: Neil Simon; Music: Cy Coleman; Lyrics: Dorothy Fields

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 4338

SHOWING : August 02, 2012 - September 02, 2012



The 2012–2013 Aurora Theatre season kicks off with a fresh new take on this classic Neil Simon hit musical. Don’t miss a minute of the misadventures of Charity Hope Valentine, a dance hall gal with a heart of gold who attempts to navigate the emotionally treacherous terrain of romance and New York City. Set in the 1960’s, show stopping musical numbers include: Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now and I’m A Brass Band.

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If They Could See her Now
by Dedalus
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
�Sweet Charity� is (or was) a big brassy musical with many memorable songs, and a heroine who (literally) wears her heart on her sleeve (well, her arm). It�s also based on one of my all time favorite movies, Fellini�s 1957 �Nights of Cabiria.� Now, Atlanta ex-pat Sean Daniels returns (with a couple of friends) to give us a down-sized vision that still fills the Aurora stage with energy, with song, with charisma, and with heart.

The Fellini movie is (and always will be) a work separate and different from this musical. It is a whimsical and lyrical journey with a traditional �whore with a heart of gold,� a kindly waif who never realizes she�s the butt of every low-life�s cruelty, who, no matter how bad things get, can still greet the evening with a �Buona Sera,� can still find beauty in the squalor that is her life. The final sequence in which she joins an impromptu parade as she stumbles home from the latest cruelty inflicted on her is one of the most elegiac, emotionally ambivalent, downright beautiful sequences ever put on film.

�Sweet Charity� retains most of the plot elements of �Cabiria,� even some of the mood and optimism. Of course, the Broadway of 1966 would never tolerate a prostitute as a heroine (interestingly, �Charity� tunesmith Cy Coleman eventually was able to do his �Hooker Musical� � 1990�s �The Life,� but even that did not reach Broadway until 1997). So, meet Charity Hope Valentine, a dancer-for-hire in one of those seedy Dance Parlors that surrounded Times Square in the sixties and seventies. Of course, the dancers can take the clients to a back room for another kind of �dance,� but Charity makes it clear she has never done �that.�

But, like Cabiria before her, she leads with her heart, trusting the most untrustworthy of men, finding the best possible motives in the worst possible actions. And, when things go into the lake (as they inevitably do), she�ll pick herself up, dry her dress and her eyes, and do it again. And, like Cabiria before her, she finds her seeming soul-mate, a neurotic and kind accountant named Oscar. Unlike Cabiria�s Oscar (who turns out to be a {Yeah, the spoiler police even monitors comments about 55-year-old movies}), Charity�s Oscar is actually a nice guy who really loves her. So, what could possibly go wrong?

And, because Dance Parlors and �Rhythm of Life� churches and Oscar�s {Deleted by the psychological spoiler police} are a thing of the past, �Sweet Charity� is a show firmly ensconced in the sixties.

And the design and production team milk that for all it�s worth. From the retro costumes and hair styles to the depressingly-in-my-memory steps of the �Rich Man�s Frug� to the tiny milk bottles carried by the �local color� milkman, everything screams the right period. Even the (slightly) anachronistic Bon Ami ad on the back brick wall of the set will be familiar to anyone who remembers similar ads in the New York of the time (there was such an ad right outside my hotel room when I was there for the 1964 World�s Fair � unless my memory deceives me, which it probably does).

Since we�re talking about the set and chorography, I have to credit the production team (Director Sean Daniels, Music Director Ann-Carol Pence, Chorographer Jen MacQueen, Set Designer John Thigpen) for integrating all the elements into a nicely cohesive unit. A two-story set with runways, staircases, balconies, and fires escapes surrounds the larger-than-the-cast orchestra, and all three dimensions are used fully. Many dance numbers require the apparently-in-terrific-shape cast to gallop up and down staircases with breakneck abandon, creating stage pictures both simple and complex. The cast never walks when they can run, never climbs when they can leap, never stands still when they can drape over the rails with brazen come-hitherliness.

And the cast itself is a thing of beauty and a joy to behold. In the central role, Rebecca Simon is a lithe and fragile Charity, a big-voiced, big-hearted force of nature whose wide-eyed embrace of life makes us wince at the bumps and bruises she finds in her path. As the three men in her life, Trent Blanton is alternately brittle and oily, suave and continental, and endearingly clumsy. His face may be a bit too craggy and distinctive to fully �sell� his separate characterizations, but, that, more or less, is the point. Once we accept the device that Charity falls for the same guy over and over, Mr. Blanton�s range comes into sharp focus. It doesn�t hurt that his Oscar and his Vittorio both share a marvelous rapport with Ms. Simon�s Charity � it�s easy to see what each man sees in her.

They are ably supported by a Protean ensemble who slip in and out of various roles (and supporting chorus voices) with the ease of music hall chameleons. Indeed, Jimi Kocina�s display of virtuosity (sometimes switching characters three or four times in less than a minute) recalls the recent productions of �Thirty-Nine Steps� in dexterity and simplicity. I also have to commend Caroline Freedlund�s Nickie and Taryn Janelle�s Helene, Charity�s Dance Hall pals who range from the tear-up-the-stage athleticism of �There�s Got to be Something Better Than This� to the soft and supportive ballad-icism of �Baby Dream Your Dream.� The ensemble is filled out by Jevares C. Myrick (whose �Big Daddy� makes �Rhythm of Life� pulse with energy and, well, life and rhythm), Loren Lott, Jenna Edmonds, and John Markowski.

The ending is admittedly not as lyrical and moving as that of the Fellini film, but it is a far cry better than the scripted �She lived hopefully ever after� pabulum that mars other productions (as well as the �Sweet Charity� film version of 1969). Instead, we�re left with a Charity belting out that she can take anything the universe throws at her and not only survive, but thrive. And, by golly, in the hands of Ms. Simon and the Aurora production, I believe she can!

This is one production to �spend a little time� with!

-- Brad Rudy (BK

And She Lived Haplessly Ever After
by playgoer
Sunday, August 12, 2012
"Sweet Charity" is a big, brassy musical with heart, at least as written. In Aurora's production, the "big" and the "heart" are largely missing. Sean Daniels has cleverly staged the show with just nine actors. "Cleverly," however, doesn't always translate to "effectively." The focus is too often on the ensemble actors, who are asked to portray a wide variety of characters. Only Jimi Kocina impresses with his rapid-fire changes of character. Everyone else gamely changes wigs and costumes, but the effect is not of displaying their unique talents, but of doing a big-budget musical on a small-budget scale.

The set, designed by John Thigpen, is certainly massive in scale. Fire escapes and walkways surround the elevated band, with a brick wall in back and a playing area up front. The brick wall has a Bon Ami ad painted on it from the late 50's, but the show is set in 1966 and the paint of the ad doesn't seem to be worn or faded. It's a puzzling choice that works in only one brief comic moment near the end, seemingly added by Jimi Kocina as an ad lib, to which the director said "keep it in." (When one actor shines so much more than others, you have to credit the actor rather than the director.) The show takes place largely in a dance hall and in Central Park, and the set provides no support at all for those locales.

Music direction, by Ann-Carol Pence, is superb, as is the norm at the Aurora. Everyone in the cast has a good voice. The Charity Hope Valentine of Rebecca Simon has powerful projection, but there is sometimes a bit of a harsh edge to her belting. The glorious baritone of Trent Blanton as Charity's beaux is wonderful to listen to, but chemistry with Ms. Simon isn't evident. The "heart" of the show just isn't there. Ms. Simon's stick-thin, angular Charity doesn't have the sweet vulnerability of Caroline Freedlund's excellent Nickie or the sassy charm of Taryn Janelle's Helene. We shouldn't care about Charity's friends more than we do Charity herself, but that's the case here. I would love to see Caroline Freedlund in a few years' time as Charity. She has the voice and dance skills and personality for it; a little more acting experience and she'll be perfect for the role.

When I heard that Trent Blanton was playing all three of Charity's boyfriends in the show, it brought to mind Sid Caesar in "Little Me" (book also by Neil Simon), since he played all the love interests in the original Broadway production of that show. Here, though, Jimi Kocina is the comic chameleon. Mr. Blanton's mature looks are too distinctive and unvaried to make the triple-casting a tour-de-force. The weird costume blocking he's given in the elevator scene does nothing to add to his performance. It's just "off," as too much of this show is.

The score by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields contains a number of energetic, well-known songs. The book by Neil Simon contains a number of humorous exchanges. "Sweet Charity" is a good show. It depends heavily, though, on the casting of Charity. Rebecca Simon comes across as a girl who was considered immensely talented in high school, and has chosen the theatre as her career, after good college-level training. That's not enough for Charity. A workmanlike performance just won't do. Unless the actress inhabits the role, the audience won't give her their hearts. Unless the audience gives a bit of their hearts to Charity, the show doesn't work as it was intended to. It's really a bit of a shame.

According to their bios, Ms. Simon and Mr. Blanton both work at Rider University, with campuses in Princeton and Lawrenceville, New Jersey. The choice to bring in two Equity ringers from the wrong Lawrenceville does not add to this production.
Bon Ami, Mon Ami by Dedalus
Okay, accuse me of having an old-fart memory, but I certainly recall my Mom's constant use of Bon Ami -- with that logo -- all through the sixties. Just because the model looks like she's from the fifties doesn't mean the company didn't still use it for decades afterwards ...

Just sayin' :-)


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