Having seen Sutton Foster in dynamic roles, I wondered whether she could be the vulnerable Charity Hope Valentine in the New Group, in association with Kevin McCollum, revival of the hit musical. No need for worry. Foster comes through with wrenching vulnerability as the forlorn dance hall hostess, but also adds an appealing ability to fight back to survive.
It’s no news that he star is a terrific singer and dancer, and she has a sure-fire gift for comedy and timing. Foster’s performance in “Sweet Charity” deserves to go beyond this limited off-Broadway run, and so does this production directed by Leigh Silverman and smartly choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, with colorful costume design by Clint Ramos.
Although this scaled-down show lacks the power of a large orchestra playing the Cy Coleman score, a six-member all-women band is very good (with orchestrations by Mary –Mitchell Campbell) in making the score come alive in relation to the size of the production.
With the audience on three sides of the stage in the small Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre in the Pershing Square Signature Center complex, there is considerable intimacy. An impact is made early on with the dance hall gals parading about sexily singing “Big Spender.” (One sang directed to me.) A nice attribute is that in the unfurling of the plot the dance hostesses are not caricatured. The roles are appealingly acted and that makes the characters come across as real people
There are numerous striking numbers. Naturally, Foster has the key ones, “Charity’s Soliloquy,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “I’m a Brass Band” and “Where Am I going?” But there are also the vibrant “Too Many Tomorrows” sung by Joel Perez as handsome actor Vittorio Vidal, and excellent Shuler Hensley, as the up-tight Oscar who woos Charity, singing, along with Foster, “I’m the Bravest Individual” and later, “Sweet Charity.”
I’ve never much cared for “The Rhythm of Life” number, although it serves the function of moving the plot along and is done well here. Looking at the show as a whole, one can admire the lyrics by Dorothy Fields and enjoy the comedy in Neil Simon’s book.
“Sweet Charity” is based on an original screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Plaiano. The character of Charity stems from the heartbreaking role played by Giulietta Masina in “Nights of Cabiria.”
Praise for Sutton Foster has made “Sweet Charity” a hard ticket, but if you can manage to book it, you’ll have a very entertaining time. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: (212) 244-7529.