‘The show sparkles with invention’: SWEET CHARITY – Donmar Warehouse ★★★★

In London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Reviews by Carole WoddisLeave a Comment

Donmar Warehouse, London – until 8 June 2019

‘A sweet sexy fairy tale’ is how one critic described Sweet Charity on its opening in London in October 1967. And Josie Rourke’s final production as the Donmar’s artistic director before handing over to Michael Longhurst certainly lives up to that description, but also makes it something rather more and darker because of the unlikely casting of Anne-Marie Duff as Charity.

Charity Hope Valentine dreams of love and being loved – the embodiment of someone down on her luck always hoping the ‘right man’ is going to come along to lift her out of it. But Charity’s life is an especially hard one working in a dance hall as a ‘taxi dancer’ selling female sexuality as `entertainment’ and erotica.

The casting of Duff, not a natural hoofer but an actor most of us would associate with high emotion and tragedy, is therefore a bold and brave one. That she could and does pull off the big song numbers and bump and grind with the best of them is a major triumph, even if some of the comedic moments don’t quite hit their mark. Given her dramatic strengths, she also adds a heartbreaking sincerity to the show’s final moments.

The real strength of Neil Simon’s book and the original concept by Bob Fosse however lies in its combination of Cy Coleman’s songs and Fosse’s dynamic choreographic invention filling out an ultimately touching see-saw between Charity’s dreams and reality.

Wayne McGregor’s choreography leans heavily on the Fosse legacy, recalling Cabaret and Chicago, and particularly in Coleman’s legendary, ‘Hey Big Spender’, one of the show’s highlights, expanded by McGregor and Rourke and played hard, louche, bitter and satirical by the chorus, embodying all the sweat and humiliation of an industry where selling the body is commodified.

Rourke and McGregor’s approach certainly accentuates the darkness underneath commercialised glamour.

But in a show that also contains the pulsating `Rhythm of Life’ – Daddy Brubeck, the song’s dope-peddling core is played by a rotating cast, Adrian Lester being the glittering circus-master the night I was there – and more winsome numbers such as `Too Many Tomorrows’ and `Where am I going?’, Sweet Charity has something to suit everybody’s taste.

© Johan Persson; the company, Warhol inspired…!

Visually too the show sparkles with invention for what is essentially a big musical in a small scale space. Designer Robert Jones adds a wild, zany, razzamatazz Andy Warholesque streak for the chorus decked out in blonde wigs and gold gloves.

And as ever, it is the chorus that makes this musical.

Rourke’s chorus comes in all shapes, sizes and persuasions, each one possessing their own personality and swagger and none more so than Debbie Kurup, one of Charity’s fellow workers whose body, taut as a trip wire, seems about to explode with tension.

© Johan Persson; Debbie Kurup, one of Charity’s co-workers at the Fandango dance hall, and one of its brightest though world-weary and cynical colleagues who packs a punch with every number…

Martin Marquez, too, turns in a nice performance as suave matinee idol, Vittorio Vidal who `picks up’ Charity outside a nightclub but is gentleman enough to only bequeath her his top hat and cane. Cue dance number: `If they could see me now!’.

Not quite a knockout but entertaining and heartfelt enough to send you away hoping, as Charity and fellow workers, caught in such exploitative situations defiantly put it, `There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This’.

Sweet Charity
Book by Neil Simon
Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Based on an original screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, Ennio Plaiano

Cast:

Charity Hope Valentine: Anne-Marie Duff
Charlie Dark Glasses/Oscar Lindquist: Arthur Darvill
Second Woman/Nickie/Pompeii Club 4th Dancer: Lizzy Connolly
Third Woman/Helene/Pompeii Club 2nd Dancer: Debbie Kurup
First Passerby/Herman/Manfred: Stephen Kennedy
Married Man/Vittorio Vidal: Martin Marquez
Married Woman/Elaine/Ursula March: Amy Ellen Richardson
Woman with Dog/Rosie/Pompeii Club 7th Dancer/YMCA Receptionist/Coney Island Girl: Charlotte Jaconelli
Ice Cream Vendor/French Waiter/Daddy Brubeck Assistant 2: Jo Eaton-Kent
Second Cop/Carmen/Whooping Cough Panhandler/Pompeii Club 6th Dancer: Danielle Steers
Woman with Pram/Suzanne/Sex in School Panhandler/Pompeii Club 1st Dancer/Sex in the Later Stages of Life Woman: Lauren Drew
First Cop/Doorman/Understudy Daddy Brubeck/Barney: Shaq Taylor
Spanish Man/Marvin/Pompeii Club 3rd Dancer/Daddy Brubeck Assistant 1/Coney Island Policeman: Ryan Reid
Baseball Player/Unwed Mothers Panhandler/Pompeii Club 8th Dancer/Cross Elevator Man/Coney Island Young Man/Boy: Will Haswell

Daddy Brubeck at perf on April 18: Adrian Lester

Director: Josie Rourke
Choreographer: Wayne McGregor
Designer: Robert Jones
Music Supervisor: Gareth Valentine
Lighting Designer: Mark Henderson
Sounds Designer: Nick Lidster for Autography
Orchestration: Larry Blank and Mark Cumberland
Original Orchestrations: Ralph Burns
Video Designer: Finn Ross
Casting Director: David Grindrod CDG
Additional Vocal and Musical Arrangements: Gareth Valentine
Assistant Choreographer: Laila Diallo
Costume Supervisor: Poppy Hall
Dialect Coach: Nick Trumble
Voice Coach: Mary King

Musicians:
Musical Director: Simon Beck
Keyboard/Deputy MD: Matt Samer
Drums: Allan Cox
Percussion: James Turner
Double Bass, Bass Guitar: Chris Kelly
Trumpets: Gavin Mallett, Annette Brown
Trombone: Barnaby Philpott
Alto Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet: Hannah Lawrance
Tenor Saxophone, Clarinet, Bass Clarinet: Claire McInerney
Orchestral Management: Andy Barnwell for Musical Co-Ordination Services

First perf of this production of Sweet Charity at the Donmar Warehouse April 6, 2019 and runs to June 8, 2019.

Sweet Charity first presented on Broadway, Jan 29, 1966.and in London at the Prince of Wales Theatre, Oct 11, 1967.
Originally conceived, staged and choreographed by Bob Fosse

Review posted on this site, April 22, 2019

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Carole Woddis on RssCarole Woddis on Twitter
Carole Woddis
Carole Woddis has been a theatre journalist and critic for over 30 years. She was London reviewer and feature writer for Glasgow’s The Herald for 12 years and for many other newspapers and magazines. She now review for websites including The Arts Desk, Reviews Gate and London Grip and blogs independently at woddisreviews.org.uk. Carole is also the author of: The Bloomsbury Theatre Guide with Trevor T Griffiths; a collection of interviews with actresses, Sheer Bloody Magic (Virago), and Faber & Faber’s Pocket Guide to 20th Century Drama with Stephen Unwin. For ten years, she was a Visiting Tutor in Journalism at Goldsmiths College and for three years with City University. Earlier in her career, she worked with the RSC, National Theatre, Round House and Royal Ballet as a publicist and as an administrator for other theatre and dance organisations.
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Carole Woddis on RssCarole Woddis on Twitter
Carole Woddis
Carole Woddis has been a theatre journalist and critic for over 30 years. She was London reviewer and feature writer for Glasgow’s The Herald for 12 years and for many other newspapers and magazines. She now review for websites including The Arts Desk, Reviews Gate and London Grip and blogs independently at woddisreviews.org.uk. Carole is also the author of: The Bloomsbury Theatre Guide with Trevor T Griffiths; a collection of interviews with actresses, Sheer Bloody Magic (Virago), and Faber & Faber’s Pocket Guide to 20th Century Drama with Stephen Unwin. For ten years, she was a Visiting Tutor in Journalism at Goldsmiths College and for three years with City University. Earlier in her career, she worked with the RSC, National Theatre, Round House and Royal Ballet as a publicist and as an administrator for other theatre and dance organisations.

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