Review – Sweet Charity

October 17, 2013 | By | Reply More

✭✭✭✩✩   Enjoyably ambitious

Church Hill Theatre  Tue 15 – Sat 19 October 2013

Consistent entertainment and a high level of skill mark out Allegro’s production of Sweet Charity at the Church Hill all this week, despite the occasional mis-step.

Rich Mans Frug Photo: John Wood

The “magnificently done” Rich Mans Frug. Pic: John Wood

The tale of Charity Hope Valentine, a nightclub hostess who remains optimistic despite a series of romantic misadventures, may have seemed black-hearted and somewhat shocking when it first appeared.

However, to a more cynical modern audience, there needs to be enough energy and verve in the production to stop what is essentially a loosely connected series of vignettes from outstaying its welcome. While this production never threatens to drag, it does not quite possess the necessary pizzazz to put it in the highest category.


Where it certainly does shine is in a huge and consistently strong cast. From the beginning, director Fraser Jamieson’s deployment of the 33-strong ensemble means that the stage is always a buzz of activity. There is always something to look at, everyone is given something to do and the energy levels are consistently high, while the cast’s role in moving the furniture and scenery means that the pace of the show never flags.

There is a commendable ambition in the staging and Caroline Howie’s choreography. Indeed, it is this ambition which comes closest to threatening to derail proceedings. I’m A Brass Band, which is designed as a huge ensemble number near the end of the show, features a routine that is obviously just too difficult for some of the cast, and comes across as somewhat undercooked as a result. This does not, however, diminish the impact of the earlier ensemble routines, notably the set-piece dances of The Rich Man’s Frug, which are magnificently done.

There is a consistently high level of acting and the accents are largely superb. The female members of the cast generally outshine the men vocally – Lauren McLachlan and Emma Collins, as Charity’s fellow taxi dancers Helene and Nickie, both possess an enviable combination of power and control, and they are able to convey the meaning of the lyrics excellently. Like many of the cast, their dancing appears accomplished rather than sparkling, but this does not detract from excellent overall performances.

Excellent control, judiciously used power and real emotion

Ross Bain, as Italian movie star Vittorio, and Jonny Farley, as Charity’s nerdy fiancé Oscar Lindquist, both seem a little uneasy in their featured musical numbers, having to reach for notes a little too often. However, they both make up for this with winning stage presences; Farley in particular shows brilliant comic timing.

                     Oscar (Jonny Farley) and Charity (Emma Dawson) and meet in the bodega Photo © John Wood

Oscar (Jonny Farley) and Charity (Emma Dawson) meet in the bodega. Photo © John Wood

There are no quibbles with the singing of Harry Dozier as the dubious ‘jazz priest’ Daddy Brubeck or James McCutcheon as nightclub owner Herman, who are both excellent. In particular, McCutcheon’s vocal on I Love To Cry At Weddings at the end of the performance has you wishing that the character had more to do earlier.

Technically, the show is irreproachable. Technical Manager Paul Inglis presides over a hugely complicated operation, while the sound and lights – credited to MM Sound and Lighting – are of the highest class. Musical director Finlay Turnbull marshals the resources of a huge live band, whose stamina and gusto are never in doubt.


The whole show, however, has to stand or fall on the character of Charity, who holds the whole thing together – and Emma Dawson is excellent throughout. She is an immensely sympathetic and charming Charity, whose singing is consistently superb, with excellent control, judiciously used power and real emotion without ever being overdone. She is also a notable comic actor. The scene where she and Oscar first meet and are trapped in an elevator is the highlight of the evening; it is difficult to imagine that it has ever been done better.

The only criticism that could be levelled at Dawson is that her dancing is occasionally functional rather than inspiring. This sums up what this highly enjoyable production is missing; that little extra element of sparkle. Perhaps the most successful number is the evergreen Big Spender, where the choreography features striking tableaux and stylised movement which is more successful than some of the more conventional dance numbers.

If, at times, there seems to be a slight lack of confidence from some of the cast, overall the huge ambitions of this entertaining production are realised.

Running time: 2 hrs 45 mins
Run ends Saturday 19 October 2013
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Sat 2.30 pm
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR
Further details and ticket booking on: www.allegromusical.co.uk

The OCR of the Broadway musical and film staring Shirley Maclaine are available on Amazon. Click for details:


ENDS

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