Sweet Charity

Apr 17 2019 | By More

★★★★★   Charity ball

Church Hill Theatre: Tue 16 – Sat 20 April 2019
Review by Martin Gray

The minute you walk in the joint, you can see Sweet Charity at the Church Hill Theatre until Saturday, is a show of distinction.

In my time I’ve seen a fair few versions of Sweet Charity. The classic film with Shirley MacLaine. A brilliant Broadway production with Christina Applegate. A truly awful all-male Fringe version set in a public toilet…

Andrew Todman (Herman), Lauren McAnna (Nickie), Emma Watson (Charity) and Susanne Horsburgh (Helene). Pic: Alan Potter

I just love the musical story of Charity Hope Valentine, ‘a girl who wanted to be loved’. It’s a show packed with showstopping song and dance numbers. The Rhythm of Life, Hey Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now, There’s Got To Be Something Better than This… everyone knows the hits.

Thrillingly, the less well-known songs in Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields’ score are every bit as good – hummable, funny, poignant. Baby Dream Your Dream, I’m a Brass Band, Bravest Individual and I Love to Cry at Weddings are all superb songs that build character and power the narrative.

And boy, do the members of Edinburgh Music Theatre do a brilliant job with them. Emma Watson is Charity, eight years into a temporary job as a dance hostess and veering from unsuitable man to appallingly unsuitable man.

With sassy pals Nickie and Helene, she dreams of escaping to a better life, but as the days pass in the seedy haze of the Fandango ballroom, the hopes seem ever slimmer, ever dimmer. Then Charity meets socially awkward, but kind Oscar, and there’s an immediate connection; he’s not out for himself and after her money, he, too, just wants someone to love. Is he the one?

Fraser Shand (Oscar) and Emma Watson (Charity). Pic: Alan Potter

Watson’s Charity is delightful – a ball of vulnerable energy, not working in a dive bar because she’s a tough cookie, but because it’s a refuge from the rest of the world. She thinks she wants a job in a bank, but the Fandango, with its parade of anonymous Johns (and three regulars) is a sanctum, a place where she knows the men won’t break her heart.

She radiates charm, you’re on her side from the moment she appears on stage, bringing a piece of Bob Fosse’s classic choreography to life. Whether solo (Where Am I Going?) or leading the ensemble (I’m a Brass Band), her performance is terrific, the New York accent and character intact as she sells those classic numbers. She’s quite the dancer too, athletic and assured.

Fraser Shand provides Watson’s perfect partner as the handsome, slightly rumpled Oscar – he manages to put an awful lot of nuance into a very broad character, and creates rare charisma with his leading lady. He’s a fine singer too, with a mellifluous tone that melts the heart.

Susanne Horsburgh and Lauren McAnna are another excellent pairing, as Charity’s fellow Fandango veterans Helene and Nickie. Their duet, Baby Dream Your Dream, in which they yearn for an ordinary, all-American life, is powerfully put across, as sad as it is funny. And they are equally good when leading a posse of sparkling, vivacious ladies in Hey Big Spender, leaning out over the audience on their stickier version of the ballet barre, quietly desperate to find a customer who’ll pay them $6.50 for half an hour of dance, conversation – and maybe more for ‘extras’.

The Rich Man’s Frug. Pic: Alan Potter

Also great value are Cameron Kirby as fading film Romeo Vittorio Vidal and Amanda Jenson as his Italian spitfire girlfriend Ursula – they’re around for only a couple of scenes, but make a big impression, he with kindness, she with (frankly terrifying) passion.

The Rhythm of Life is indeed a powerful beat as led by Jack Bruce’s Daddy Brubeck, an avuncular yet manic presence. The talented ensemble – as in the Rich Man’s Frug, with its super-stylised Fosse moves – display commendable commitment, filling the stage with colour and life.

Director Louise Sables handles Neil Simon’s witty, moving script with sensitivity, producing some fine bits of staging. The elevator scene, in which Charity and Oscar have time to get to know one another, is especially clever, and the Fandango dancers announcing the scenes with boxing match-style cards is fun and fitting.

Hey Big Spender. Pic: Alan Potter.

The one misstep is the amount of dry ice that often makes it seem as if Charity has wandered into Stephen King’s The Mist. A little bit of smoky atmosphere for the Fandango, I get, but offices and the outdoors? I can only assume the smoke machine was on the blink.

I’m not sure where a choreographer fits into a show like Sweet Charity, since Fosse’s stylised, staccato choreography is so iconic, but whatever Morgan Scott is doing, he’s doing it right because the performers move with grace and precision. No matter how crowded the stage gets, they interact with elegance and intelligence, the storytelling always to the fore.

A word, too, for George Cort’s lighting which, when it isn’t battling the mist, really shines, with I’m a Brass Bend especially vibrant. That number, along with The Rhythm of Life, also shows off the great costume work of the aforementioned Laura McAnna – the Sixties have rarely looked so swinging.

As for the orchestrations, musical director Matthew Brown and friends bring the songs to gorgeous life, as well as providing the incidental score.

Anyone have a spare superlative? I’m fast running out so will simply say, if you like musicals, you’ll love Sweet Charity. And maybe she’ll love you back.

Running Time: Two hours and forty minutes (including one interval)
Church Hill Theatre, 33a Morningside Road, EH10 4DR.
Tuesday 16 – Saturday 20 April 2019
Evenings: 7.30pm, Matinee Sat: 2.30pm
Tickets and details: Book Here.

EMT website: www.edinburghtheatre.co.uk.
EMT on facebook: @edinburghmusictheatre
Twitter: @edmusictheatre.

The original Broadway Cast recording and film adaptation are available through Amazon. Click the images for details:


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