Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sweet Charity *** B-

It has been 50 years since this show arrived on Broadway with a formidable array of talent behind it: music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, a book by Neil Simon based on a Fellini film, Gwen Verdon in the title role and, last but certainly not least, choreography and direction by Bob Fosse. To be honest, it has never been one of my favorite musicals. I find the book too disjointed and cliched and the characterizations exaggerated. Still, it has some catchy songs and several terrific dance numbers. Now The New Group has revived the show in a stripped-down version, modest even by Encores standards. The cast has 12 instead of the original 30 and the orchestra has been reduced to five over-amplified musicians. For a show that has so many dance numbers, the choreography is critical. Joshua Bergasse has the unenviable task of following Fosse’s exceptional work. While he has demonstrated talent elsewhere (On the Town), he is no Fosse. Sutton Foster, while one of the most talented actresses in musicals, is no Gwen Verdon. In the opening number, her neediness is shown as so grotesque that it is hard to feel much sympathy for her. Her perkiness is tiring, but she demonstrates a real flair for physical comedy. The always watchable Shuler Hensley makes a fine Oscar, the man she hopes will be her rescuer. Joel Perez is a standout in all four of his roles. The racially mixed ensemble is very good. Derek McLane’s scenic design features a a bare square stage with a brick back wall and two runways. Furniture is rolled in as needed. The audience is seated on three sides. The costumes by Clint Ramos bring back the 60s in all their excess. I do wish they had sprung for more than one dress for Charity. The directorial choice by Leigh Silverman to emphasize the extent to which the show is an artifact of the 60s robs it of some immediacy. Nevertheless, it is always a pleasure to see Foster and Hensley on stage. If you never saw or don’t remember Fosse’s choreography, you won’t be bothered by its absence. Despite some reservations, I did not regret seeing this production.  Running time: two hours, ten minutes including intermission.

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