Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Sweet Charity" has a lot of heart and some good dancin'

Cast of Sweet Charity headed by Megan Tyrrell (Jeff Carpenter)

Sweet Charity
Through March 1, 2015

The newest production at Seattle Musical Theatre, Sweet Charity, has a lot of heart and a lot of really nice choreography. It’s not the most polished production ever, but it’s an enjoyable way to see a musical that doesn’t get stage time very much anymore.

It’s definitely a throw-back to the ‘60s or in some ways even older. Charity Hope Valentine (Megan Tyrrell) is a taxi dancer – dancing for money with assorted men – at the Fandango Club. Of course, she’s really looking for love and finds it over and over again; even when the man in question is so ambiguous he actually steals from her!

The book (script) is by Neil Simon, so it’s fast patter and kind of funny, and the music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields has some of the most iconic musical songs in it, including Hey, Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now.
Directed and choreographed by Harry Turpin, the show is far more of a dance production than you might think. Not only a lot of very-well-fitting choreography (even the not so good dancers looked pretty good doing Harry’s choreography – which is key to making the production look as good as possible), but also, multiple instances of having to sing and dance at the same time. In that regard, Tyrrell showed great heart and also great lungs to be able to manage a lot of important lyrics while vigorously hoofing.

Turpin, having started out primarily as a dancer, is well aware of how to match choreography to what a person’s ability is. Yet, he also doesn’t shy away from “real” dance choreography and coordinated group movement. The result is that the dancing shines and truly supports the production from looking too amateur.

The band, music directed by Michael Nutting, sounds generally fine, but here’s wishing the horn section pulls itself together better. If you have to have horns, they’re so showy, they really need to get it nailed. This is a horn-filled show.

Doug Fahl is the male lead here, Oscar, an actual nice man who falls for Charity and calls her “sweet.” He brings all the right notes to the character, the upstanding type and then the one who is so moral he knows himself well enough to bail out. Perhaps the downer ending (Charity doesn’t get her man) is why the show is not done as often. People want to feel good leaving a musical comedy, and by and large, this is a funny show.

One of the topnotch aspects of this show is the set by Phillip Lienau. It’s a skyline that extends to the top of movable set pieces so when they’re “put away” they blend back into the cityscape. Genius. Costumes by John Allbritton are generally attractive for the main characters, but a bit unfortunately cheap looking for the ensemble, especially the women. The wigs are pretty great, though, especially the tall one on Ursula (Marissa Ryder).

The musical is not now one that proves the test of time well. It wasn’t meant to be earth-shaking at the time, and was supposed to be rather light entertainment. But now, its view of women and their place in society is pretty dim. However, it is still an iconic moment in musical theater history, with great songs. This is a cool opportunity to see it on stage, because you won’t likely see it fully produced again.

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