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Tuesday, 05 April 2011 00:05

Not so sweet

Written by Bob Wilcox
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Some movies don't need to be made into musicals. Some musicals don't need to be revived.

The movie in question is Federico Fellini's 1957 film Nights of Cabiria, about an ever-hopeful, ever-disappointed Italian prostitute. The musical made from it is 1966's Sweet Charity.

Neil Simon's book turns Cabiria into Charity Hope Valentine, a Times Square dancer-for-hire who claims not to turn tricks on the side, unlike some of her colleagues. But Charity shares Cabiria's eternally sunny disposition and always dashed hopes. Simon even insists (spoiler alert, if you need one) on breaking Charity's heart again at the end of the show when her milquetoast groom can't get over her professional life and dumps her on their wedding day. It's quite a stretch, dramaturgically, but by then credibility had long flown away. And Charity can once again pick herself up out of the mud and exit singing her own ode to joy, "If My Friends Could See Me Now."

Along with "Big Spender," which wouldn't look bad in Kander and Ebb's Chicago, it's the best number in the so-so score by Cy Coleman, music, and Dorothy Fields, lyrics. But the perfect example of how lost these two and their fellow old-Broadway-pro Simon can get is their attempt to mock the current hippie youth culture with their scene in the Rhythm of Life Church, which just proves how hopelessly out-of-it they are.

The sole reason to revive Sweet Charity, if there is one, is the role of Charity herself. Originally created for Gwen Verdon, the muse and favorite dancer of Bob Fosse, who choreographed and directed the original Broadway production as well as the movie that starred Shirley MacClaine, the role can be a feast for a performer who's up for it. I suspect, from what I've seen before and from her innate sparkle and fine voice, that Amanda Boyer, who plays Charity in the current Over Due Theatre Company production, might have the chops. But whether she's defeated by the book's weaknesses or by the concept of the director, Wayne Mackenberg – and the rest of the production makes him a suspect – Boyer's broad, one-note performance never catches fire or even comes to life.

And that's the way the whole show goes, despite some energetic attempts from the company, especially Charity's dance-hall buddies played by Rachel Visocan and Colleen Hart McGowan. Choreographer Carolyn Osborne-Masterson has managed to find a few dancers who have good moments with her simplified Fosse choreography. And musical director Donna Perrino keeps her four-piece combo at a level that lets us hear the voices, though they have to do a lot of vamping during the lengthy changes of Jim Orlando's set. The unfriendly facilities in the Oliviette Community Center theatre share blame for that.

I encourage anyone else tempted to revive Sweet Charity: resist the temptation.

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