Sweet Charity (the touring company): A Review, Denver, 12/5/06
I remember when, several years ago, they announced that they were reviving Sweet Charity on Broadway. I immediately thought, "Why?" As a property, its three big assets were Gwen Verdon, the Fosse choreography, and about 2/3rds of the score. What it doesn't have is much of a book (and the book is even less than I expected--see below), an even vaguely satisfying ending, and a reason for anyone in the 21st century to care about what was going on in 1965 in some grimy corner of New York.
So if you're gonna revive it, you gotta really emphasize the three assets. Well, the Broadway production cast Christina Applegate, so there went that one right there. Ever heard her on the CD? I heard she could dance a bit better than she sang, but she warn't no Verdon. Then, they scrapped part of the Fosse moves in favor of Wayne Cilento. I don't care how many Chorus Line credits that guy has; if he's what passes for a great choreographer these days, it's no wonder the old shows play for years on end. So we're left with the score, and if what I heard on the CD was what they heard on Broadway, Asset #3 was no great asset any longer. Thus, it came as no surprise to me that the show didn't last too long.
So now they're touring this sorry thing. With Molly Ringwald.
Really, that should be, So now they're touring this sorry thing?! With Molly RINGWALD?! (Said the way you'd say, "Sonny TUFTS?" And no, this line is not original with me.)
Charity is a triple-threat role. It was built around Gwen Verdon, the greatest triple threat Broadway has ever seen. Simple, basic logic dictates that you cast a triple threat.
But the producers of this dog were working with a different logic. They knew their property was, to put it kindly, flawed. Audiences weren't going to flock to it unless they had a damned good reason to. So they hired Ringwald, beloved of a certain generation of filmgoers, whose presence would (theoretically) guarantee that people would buy tickets. And I supposed they rationalized their choice by noting that she had stage experience, and that she had even appeared as Roxie Hart in Chicago. Of course, every warm female body in New York has been crammed into that role whether suited for it or not, so that's no great recommendation.
So, okay. Ringwald is not a bad actress in the movies. Can she sing and dance?
Charity is now (12/5/06) in Denver, after bouncing around the country for a few months. I wasn't going to see it because of the mediocre reviews it's been getting elsewhere, but a friend of mine was offered two tickets, and I'll see anything on a free ticket. But it's a bad sign that they had to give away tickets for opening night. It was a bad sign that the two idiot girls sitting behind us were chatting openly all through the overture. (I asked them to shush, and one said, "The show hasn't started yet!" Morons.) But my primo bad sign is flimsy sets. Charity came out--to mild applause; clearly Ringwald is not the draw the producers had hoped--and began to hang on a lamppost, which swayed noticeably. That says right there, "CHEAP." In general, the production felt like one or two steps above a high school mounting, and I wasn't the only one who thought this.
But to Ringwald.
Her singing--well, she might be worthy of the musical stage in a few years with better training. She was mostly on key, but she couldn't belt except on rare occasions, and she obviously has no clue about acting while you sing. Her phrasing was often bad.
Her acting--in nonmusical moments, she sounded forced and shrill. Mostly, though, she came off as bland.
Her dancing--what dancing? Compared to Ringwald, Renee Zellweger in Chicago the movie was Verdon. No shit. She was TERRIBLE. She danced like ME. No--even I could move my arms in time with other people.
What an insult her casting was to the memory of Gwen Verdon!
Other: They had her in weird white makeup (at least, I hope it was makeup) that made her look like a Charity zombie. Maybe that's why she was so flat-footed. And the red frock she wore, coupled with her red hair, made me think of Annie, though obviously one who had gotten hooked on crack and had run away from Daddy Warbucks to make a pathetic living as a dance hall hostess/hooker.
The company, with a couple of notable exceptions, was one of the worst Equity companies I've seen in a long time. The dancers lacked precision. The level of acting was low. The singing was disappointing. Even the orchestra was poor, too loud and prone to hitting clinkers. Maybe everyone was reacting to being in a turkey. I know that if I was a gypsy with real talent and had to put up with Molly Ringwald in the central role, I'd be low-energy as well. Particularly bad were the guy who played Vittorio, or whatever his damned name is, and whoever played his girlfriend, who couldn't be bothered to enunciate clearly. Vittorio made even Charity sound good, he was such a rotten singer.
The two exceptions were Guy Adkins as Oscar and Richard Ruiz as Herman. Guy deserved ever accolade I've seen in the reviews. He was limber beyond belief, he sang well, and he was funny as hell. (Maybe they should have cast him as Charity!) The only times the audience laughed heartily were when he was on stage, particularly in the elevator scene, which was the only one that generated any positive buzz at all. And Ruiz made what he could of his minor role and his one song. He's got a beautiful voice!
A word about the book: I was only familiar with it through the movie, which I hated, and by reading about it. I couldn't believe how bad it was. I know Neil Simon took the elevator scene from his own experiences with claustrophobia, which is probably why it played better than anything else in the show. The scene with Vittorio goes on WAAAY too long and does nothing for the plot. With Verdon doing the hat-and-cane thing, maybe audiences didn't mind back in the 1960s, but it sure as hell doesn't work now. There needs to be more about Charity's naivete, more hard-luck stuff; maybe a scene in the Fandango would help. That would point up the triumph she feels when Oscar finally proposes, and give his rejection more wallop. And there must be something that will end this show properly. All three endings I know about suck big time.
Review copyright 2006, D. Aviva Rothschild. All rights reserved
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