Review: Sweet Charity (Luckiest Productions / Neil Gooding Productions)

rsz_sc_0005_bps4219Venue: Hayes Theatre Co (Potts Point NSW), Feb 7 – Mar 9, 2014
Book: Neil Simon
Music: Cy Coleman
Lyrics: Dorothy Fields
Director: Dean Bryant
Choreography: Andrew Hallsworth
Musical Direction: Andrew Worboys
Actors: Verity Hunt-Ballard, Martin Crewes, Debora Krizak, Lisa Sontag

Theatre review
Bob Fosse directed and choreographed the iconic Sweet Charity, on stage and on film, in the late 1960s. The dance sequences are some of the most striking moving images ever seen, so one of the main challenges in staging the work today would be the treatment given to the re-creation of those scenes.

The current production at Hayes Theatre Co, helmed by director Dean Bryant and choreographer Andrew Hallsworth straddles between faithfulness and innovation. There is an acknowledgment that times and audiences have changed, but also an awareness that the immortal is a hard act to follow. Bryant’s adaptation uses the theatre’s spacial limitations to his advantage, and turns the work into an intimate and emotionally rich experience. There is a sense of things being scaled down, but for the most part, he achieves a good intensity on stage that results from the distillation of something conceptually grander. Hallsworth’s thankless task of re-interpreting Fosse’s choreography is surprisingly effective, even if the numbers “Hey Big Spender” and “Rich Man’s Frug” do leave us pining desperately for the film.

Visual elements are especially noteworthy. Ross Graham’s lighting is varied, dynamic and sensually appealing, providing the minimal set an aura of tragic beauty. It also gives logic to time and place, making the innumerable scene transitions happen flawlessly. Tim Chappel’s costumes and Ben Moir’s wigs are thoughtful and impactful without being overwhelming. They tell the story of the characters even before they begin to speak.

Martin Crewes plays a trio of Charity’s men, and delights with every role. The energy he brings to the stage is staggering, and he possesses a headstrong determination that is seductive and commanding. Crewes impresses with his powerful and creative song interpretations, and is responsible for both the funniest and saddest moments of the show in his role of Oscar. Debora Krizak shines as Nickie, one of the more jaded dance hall hostesses, and is easily the raunchiest and most colourful of characters. Krizak’s ability to portray earthiness and pathos is a real highlight. Verity Hunt-Ballard is the star of the show, with a vocal talent that makes Charity’s songs more meaningful than ever. The comic elements of the role are difficult (it’s not the funniest of scripts), but Hunt-Ballard is deeply moving at every tragic turn.

Sweet Charity can be thought of as pre-feminist. It constantly defines its women in terms of their relationships with men, and depicts their work in the adult industry as unquestionably pessimistic. All efforts are made for them to appear vivacious and intelligent, but their desires are left unexamined and unevolved. Unlike Fosse’s film, this production does not leave you with thoughts of glitz, glamour and glossy dance routines. Instead, it makes you ponder the big questions in our lives… and the meaning of love.