Review: SWEET CHARITY at Marriott Theatre

Review: SWEET CHARITY at Marriott Theatre

Pictured (l – r): NaTonia Monét, Anne Horak, and Dani Spieler. Photo by Justin Barbin.

By Elizabeth Ellis

Charity Hope Valentine, the beguiling protagonist of SWEET CHARITY, brings to mind all kinds of words used in the 1960s to describe a certain type of young woman: She is plucky, she is spunky, she possesses gumption. Charity also maintains an endearing hopefulness and optimism despite repeated heartbreak, frustration, and disappointment. While SWEET CHARITY told of the limiting circumstances many women faced upon its debut in 1966, it now can easily provide a 21st-century audience with some cringe-inducing moments. Ultimately, however, Charity prevails with a strong sense of self, and without being objectified or defined by her relationship to a man. With snappy, terrific direction and choreography from Alex Sanchez and a bravura performance by Anne Horak as Charity, Marriott Theatre’s production offers a look back to a nascent feminist heroine, and is a reminder of how far we’ve come in just over 50 years.

Nominated for nine Tony Awards, SWEET CHARITY benefited from significant contributions from legendary heavy-hitters of the Broadway stage: music and lyrics by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, respectively; Neil Simon’s book; and Bob Fosse’s choreography (Fosse’s wife and frequent collaborator, Gwen Verdon, originated the role of Charity). Charity works in New York City as a hostess in a seedy and depressing dance hall: not a career with longevity nor great prospects. The girls of the dance hall don’t possess much in the way of self-esteem; even the relatively attainable professional goals of being a hat-check girl or an assistant to a dental hygienist seem to be too much to hope for. Charity doesn’t have fabulous luck in love, either, as the men in her life tend to be attracted to her sweetness and naïveté, and discard her once they’ve enjoyed their fun with her. When Charity meets the neurotic but friendly Oscar Lindquist (Alex Goodrich, in an excellent performance with spot-on comedic timing), she falls for his sweetness, and he falls for what he sees as her purity. Once Oscar discovers how Charity earns her living, his imaginings of her as a paragon of virtue dashed, he becomes distraught and breaks off their engagement. While Charity could crumple at the thought of yet another rejection from a suitor, she emerges with her chin up, to the line, “And she lived hopefully ever after.”

Horak and Goodrich are backed up by a terrific ensemble, who execute Sanchez’s choreography brilliantly, with superior work from conductor Patti Garwood and her company of fine musicians. The dance hall girls bring a jaded eye and wonderfully slinky moves to the classic “Big Spender.” Charity and her friends Nickie and Helene (the excellent Dani Spieler and Natonia Monet, respectively) show untapped reserves of hope and drive in “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.” Some enterprising musical team should create a show for these three fine actors, because their work together is marvelous. Another standout is the stellar Kenny Ingram, who steals the show in “The Rhythm of Life” as the charismatic cult leader-impresario Daddy Brubeck. It’s a wild and rambunctious scene that looks like a mobile version of HAIR and Woodstock.

Is it tough to absorb some of the moments in SWEET CHARITY? Sure. Like the idea that the best way out of the dead-end drudgery of the dance hall is to find a good man (“good luck with that,” by the way, is the implication). The press materials convey the desire that this particular production sends a nod to the #MeToo movement. It’s a hard concept to grasp for most of the show, but as Charity comes into her own, on her own, we see that if Charity could see herself now, she would be proud.

SWEET CHARITY runs through October 28th. For more information visit marriotttheatre.com.

About author

Elizabeth Ellis

Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City's Children's Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London's Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.

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