Sutton Foster proves she is a force of nature and a bonaified star in the New Group’s production of Sweet Charity. The revival of the 1966 musical has been changed and sent into the land of “political correctness” and it is lost in translation. A show once full of hope has been given a depressing, how many mistakes can I make and not look in the mirror attitude by director Leigh Silverman. Bob Fosse’s iconic choreography has been negated for Joshua Bergasse awkward and goofy movements. Normally a fan of Bergasse, this show left me sadly wanting. As a matter of fact, had Ms. Foster not been so engaging, despite the direction, I would have been left wanting for most of the show. I am a huge fan of this Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields musical. My go to video’s to cheer me up are the Fosse dances that were and still are inspiring.
First the show is done on a small-scale with Joel Perez taking on four of the main character roles and the orchestra a spare six. We follow Charity Hope Valentine, in her opening number “You Should See Yourself,” as she throws herself with abandon into what she has convinced herself is “love.” She literly jumps on them, throws her legs around their waists and with one leg over their head. She is like an awkward puppy. What we don’t see is that painful moment of realization, that this is painful. Charity throws herself at men because of her desperate need to be loved. Dressed in a feathered blond wig and purple misshaped mini-dress, thanks to Clint Ramos, Charity is no longer sexy, but desperate, too desperate. Thanks to book by Neil Simon, Ms Foster and Ms. Silverman find all the jokes and this Charity is funny.
Charity works as a dance hall hostess in what is suppose to be a seedy establishment, again thanks to Clint Ramos’s costumes it no longer has that 60’s feel, which is when it takes place or that seedier side of life vibe. “Hey, Big Spender” looks more like a number from Cabaret.
When Charity ends up in the bedroom of an Italian movie star (well done by Joel Perez) we see a little more depth in “If They Could See Me Now,” until Bergasse turns it into a tap number.
Showstoppers like “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” and “I’m A Brass Band” miss the fanfare we expect and the dance numbers each pale from there.“The Rhythm of Life” has gone Ballywood 60’s style and here Mr. Perez is highly miscast. My favorite number “Rich Man’s Frug” is anemic.
When Charity finally meets the neurotic Oscar, the show comes alive. Sher Hensley and Ms Foster’s talents are equally matched. Hensley, is charming and despite the shyness, the looks and the neurosis, we see why Charity would finally feel safe. The problem is because of how Ms. Silverman set up the show, in the end we are not crying, we do not hurt for Charity, because Charity has never become real. Her heart has never really been on her sleeve, She is a cartoon of a person.
As Charity’s older and wiser companions Nicky (Asmeret Ghebremichael) and Helene (Emily Padgett) can sing and dance, but they are way too young and glamorous. Ms Padgett does manage to act her way to the role, but again is undermined by Mr. Ramos.
Ms. Foster the two-time Tony Award winner (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Little Women) is infectious with her electric grin, brassy belt and limber limbs. What we cheer for is a star up-close and talent so blatant.
Derek McLane brick-wall set and Jeff Croiter lighting are well done for the small space.
The musical direction of Georgia Stitt and her all-female band manages to work wonders.
Sweet Charity was masterpiece of director Bob Fosse and his muse, wife Gwen Verdon. The show told of the changing times and in the original “and so she lived hopefully ever after,” was stated. Now in 2016 soon to be 2017 we are no longer hopeful. This Sweet Charity ends bleakly and hope is no where to be seen.
Sweet Charity: Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St. Until December 31st.