AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Book by Neil Simon
Directed by Erica Wyman-Abrahamson
Presented by Hillbarn Theatre
1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA / (650) 349-6411

Reviewed by Judy Richter

Her name, Charity Hope Valentine, perfectly describes the title character in "Sweet Charity."

Played by Monique Hafen at Hillbarn Theatre, Charity is generous, optimistic and romantic -- mostly to her detriment.

In the story by Neil Simon, she works at the seedy Fan-Dango Ballroom in New York as a dance hall hostess, or taxi dancer.

She has had no luck in love until she meets Oscar (David Blackburn), and they become trapped in an elevator at the YMCA. Though neurotic, he's sweet and deeply cares for her. Still, disappointment ensues once again.

Charity's best friends are her cynical and more worldly co-workers Helene (Caitlin O'Leary) and Nickie (Alicia Gangi). They team up with her in "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This," one of the highlights in the tuneful score by Cy Coleman with lyrics by Dorothy Fields.

Inspired by Bob Fosse, choreographer/director of the original 1966 Broadway production, choreography by Alex Hsu enhances enjoyment of the songs. Perhaps it's best displayed in "Rich Man's Frug," featuring the ensemble.

Also ranking high are "Big Spender," sung and danced by the jaded Fan-Dango women; "The Rhythm of Life," featuring Lawrence-Michael C. Arias as a hippie preacher; and "I'm a Brass Band," with Charity and the men.

Complete with go-go boots, the '60s costumes by Valerie Emmi capture the era, while the simple set by Kuo-Hao Lo (lit by David Gotlieb) allows fluid transitions between scenes.

It's too bad that music director Rick Reynolds' orchestra sometimes drowns out the singers, and the brass hit too many sour notes on opening night, especially in the overture.

Directed by Erica Wyman-Abrahamson with vocal direction by Tracy Chiappone, the acting and singing are generally good.

With her expressive face and limber limbs, Hafen excels in acting, dancing and singing. She's ably supported by O'Leary, Gangi and the other women. Some of the men are good dancers, but overall the male corps isn't equal to the women.

Blackburn overacts as Oscar, especially in the elevator scene, and puts too much emphasis on Oscar's neuroticism.

Running about three hours with one intermission, the production overall is quite enjoyable thanks to the great score and terrific dancing.

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