Donmar Warehouse, London – until 8 June 2019
Director Josie Rourke ends her tenure at the Donmar Warehouse with a hip revival of Sweet Charity that sees Anne-Marie Duff’s sheer luminous personality perform an unlikely role
Yes, she goes overboard with the 1960s motif but I liked it. The stage is dressed in white and aluminium from Andy Warhol’s Silver Factory era and there’s groovy signage to direct the narrative.
Dance hostess, Nickie (Lizzy Connolly) is a lookalike for Edie Sedgwick while one of the musical numbers, ‘Rich Man’s Frug’, features an entire cast of Warhols. I think we get the message.
Sweet Charity is a rom-com – Noo York style. It’s brash, bawdy and streetwise, although a lot of Bob Fosse’s original, raunchy choreography appears toned down by this production’s choreographer, Wayne McGregor.
It’s also charming and playful with Duff pulling off one of the most charismatic and endearing performances of her already illustrious career. It would be perfect if she could only sing and dance. Sheer luminous personality alone gets her through this unlikely role as an unlucky-in-love dance hostess who dreams of love and romance but meets nothing but disappointment.
Sweet Charity would be just another clichéd, Neil Simon, screwball comedy if it wasn’t for its memorable musical numbers from Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields.
‘Big Spender’, ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’ and ‘There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This’ are blockbusters while ‘Rhythm of Life’, sung by a guest performer – on press night it was Adrian Lester – pretty much brings the house down.
Like Duff, Lester isn’t known as a singer or dancer and, to be frank, he’s not (nor can he rock a silver sequinned T shirt), but he almost steals the show with a bravura turn as sect guru, Daddy Brubeck.
Rourke goes out in style with a dazzling show. She throws everything at it and it largely works. The results are beguiling performances and a well told story.
Duff is Charity Hope Valentine, who has been stuck on the bottom rung of Life, for far too long. Her name says it all. She’s a sucker for a sob story, yearns for hearts and flowers, and is constantly looking for love.
But it eludes her. She’s a dance hostess in a seedy New York club that’s home to a ragtag selection of young, jaded dancers all hoping for a break and a way out.
There’s an entrancing cameo from Martin Marquez as a romantic, fading, Italian movie star, who sweeps Charity off her feet for a night to remember, only to be totally bewitched by his besotted fan’s honest, vibrant and uninhibited charms.
She finally has a shot at love when she finds herself trapped in a broken down lift with boring tax accountant, Oscar (Arthur Darvill). Could he be the one?
Duff is irrepressible. She crinkles her nose, flashes a megawatt smile and hopes for the best. Dramatically she gives a top turn, her Charity is blessed with pathos, depth and raw emotion.
The audience is with her all the way, with their fingers crossed.
Darvill plays his part well as the shy, nerdy and reluctant suitor. If opposites attract then she may have found the man for her.
Sweet Charity is full of heart and exuberance, it’s whimsical and well told and I loved it.
Running at the Donmar Warehouse until June 8.
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