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Off Broadway

Sweet Charity: Sweet Sweet Sutton!

Sweet Charity: Sweet Sweet Sutton!
Sutton Foster, Sweet Charity

Sutton Foster Photos by Monique Carboni

Sutton Foster. Now that’s a big Broadway draw for The New Group’s production of Neil Simon (book), Cy Coleman (music), and Dorthy Field’s (lyrics) iconic musical revival, Sweet Charity. After she blew my mind in Anything Goes a few years ago at the Roundabout, I’ve been waiting to see her center stage again in a big dance heavy classic. And this show just sounded like a perfect fit. And it is. Pretty much.

Sutton Foster, Sweet Charity, Emily Padgett, Asmeret Ghebremichael

Emily Padgett, Sutton Foster, Asmeret Ghebremichael

The musical is filled with priceless musical and dance numbers.  One gem after another, ripe for stylized choreography and fun musical vocalizations. I give a lot of credit to choreographer Joshua Bergasse (On the Town, Gigi) to take on this small stage off Broadway revival. One must feel the weight of Bob Fosse (and Gwen Verdon) hanging over every interpretive decision made. His imprint on how we see and and hers in how we hear this show is firm and strong. Add to that, Shirley MacLaine’s legendary performance in the 1968 movie (directed by Fosse) and we are hard pressed to erase those sky high expectations. So both director Leigh Silverman (Violet)  and Bergasse have to find a way to satisfy our expectations and also place their own personal stamp on it. And in general I think they succeed. Pretty well. It helps that the show is being staged on a thrust rather then the typical proscenium (like the last Broadway revival in 2005 starring Christina Applegate/Charlotte D’Ambroise) giving it a sight line differential that makes imitation impossible. This is no more evident then in the spectacular number, ‘Big Spender’ which carries so much historical weight, but those expectations only float in and out of our minds as Bergasse utilizes Nickie (Asmeret Ghebremichael), Helene (Emily Padgett), Carmen (Nikos Graff Lanzarone), Elaine (Sasha Hutchings), Betsy (Yesenia Ayala), and finally, coming in midway, Charity (Sutton Foster) in a spectacularly inventive way, giving us all the grit and the bored sexuality that is needed. It’s a great start. And these women, as the dance hall hostess brigade, are perfection, with all their precision and angular sensuality.

Sutton Foster, Sweet Charity, Shuler Hensley

Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley

The only trouble that sneaks in to this show is sometimes Foster doesn’t seem to be like all the others. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, as she basically is not like the others. There is something more fluid and refined in her body movements that I couldn’t quite shake off. I’m not saying she didn’t do the part justice, because she truly does shine as Charity, making it gleeful and optimistically joyful. Occasionally though, and maybe that’s the point, she lacked a brittleness or edginess that the others elicited. It was the most apparent in “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” which has a desperation mixed with dreamy naivety that worked with the spectacular Ghebremichael (Nickie) and Padgett (Helene) but seemed less organic for Foster. Maybe Foster carries a sense of accomplishment that makes the edgy neediness dissipate, as we internally believe Foster can do anything she sets her mind upon. Ghebremichael and Padgett manage to give us the desperation and maybe a bit of defeat these women need in every sharp movement. These two brilliantly shine again in the Act Two number, “Baby, Dream your Dream”, which accentuates their emotional damages perfectly.
Sutton Foster, Sweet Charity

Sutton Foster, Joel Perez

Solo numbers, such as “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, the opener- “You Should See Yourself”, and the finale- “Where Am I Going?”, are the moments that Foster truly shines, performing with excellence, humor, and true depth. Standing center stage and stealing our hearts with every shrug and smile. It’s not surprising that Oscar, (a wonderful Shuler Hensley) falls for her so sweetly. Their duet, “I’m the Bravest Individual” is comic genius and his solo, “Sweet Charity” is exactly as it should be, kind, loving, sweet, with a gint of surprise. I can’t quite get it out of my head. Joel Perez (Fun Home) matches Foster’s excellence playing numerous roles, all exceeding well.  Singing Herman’s lovely sweet and sour song, “I Love To Cry at Weddings” and Vittorio Vidal’s ballad, “Too Many Tomorrow’s”, Perez nails both wonderfully. The bigger dance number, “The Rhythm of Life” feels a bit messier and unfocused in comparison, but Perez’s vocal abilities still do the job.

Sutton Foster, Sweet Charity, Shuler Hensley

Sutton Foster and Shuler Hensley

The real excitement in this show, beyond all those beautiful songs, is the dancing. And this is where the show flips back and forth from excellent to good. Fosse is a difficult one to supersede, and the epic quality of a larger stage production would have elevated “Rich Man’s Frug” and “The Rhythm of Life”, but in the smaller numbers the thrust gives us an intimacy and style we are grateful for. So this Sweet Charity leans more to the song over the dance. But that’s nothing to shake your foot at. Fosse can rest easy, his legacy stays firmly in tact. And the show still shines bright regardless, and that we can all be truly thankful for.  Now the question remains: Is this show Broadway bound? I sure hope so, I think it would only improve with a large scale and scope.
Sutton Foster, Sweet Charity
Sweet Charity: The New Group, Pershing Square Signature Center,  480 W 42nd St. until Jan. 3.

For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Look for Suzanna Bowling and David Spencer’s reviews

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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