AISLE SAY San Francisco


Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Book by Neil Simon
Originally conceived, staged & choreographed by Bob Fosse
Directed by Timothy Near
Presented by Center REPertory Company
Margaret Lesher Theatre, Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek, CA / (925) 943-7469

Reviewed by Judy Richter

The title character in "Sweet Charity" is Charity Hope Valentine, a hopeful yet hapless dance hall hostess who's just looking for love. As played by Molly Bell for Center REPertory Company in Walnut Creek, she's lovable and irrepressible.

She's also a terrific singer, dancer and actress as Charity finds herself in some unusual situations. Director Timothy Near has surrounded her with an equally terrific cast of triple-threat performers who deliver the songs by composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Dorothy Fields with high energy and precision dancing, thanks to choreographer Jennifer Perry.

Much of Perry's choreography reflects the influence of the late Bob Fosse, who conceived, staged and choreographed the original 1966 Broadway production starring Gwen Verdon. He also directed and choreographed the 1969 film starring Shirley MacLaine.

This stage production is more satisfying than the film in part because Bell has an air of naivete that's more suited for the title role and in part because the final scenes are clearer about the motivation of Charity's latest boyfriend, Oscar (Keith Pinto). Moreover, the film feels bloated at times, whereas everything in this stage production stems logically from the characters and Neil Simon's book.

The first act introduces Charity as a sunny but overly generous young woman who is literally dumped by a boyfriend. Next comes the memorable "Big Spender" performed by Charity's jaded dance hall colleagues, including her two best friends, Helene (Brittany Danielle and Nickie (Alison Ewing).

The entire company is featured in production numbers like "Rich Man's Frug" and "The Rhythm of Life," the latter featuring James Monroe Iglehart as religious leader Daddy Brubeck. Some of Bell's more memorable solo moments come in "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and "Where Am I Going." Bell, Danielle and Ewing team up for the emphatic "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This."

Other featured performers are Colin Thomson as Herman, the dance hall boss, and Noel Anthony as Vittorio, an Italian movie star whom Charity meets by chance.

Complemented by Kurt Landisman's outstanding lighting, Annie Smart's set design helps to keep the action flowing smoothly. Christine Crook designed the eye-catching costumes. The sound, including a realistic thunder storm, is by Jeff Mockus. Sean Kana serves as musical director.

All elements of this show add up to a thoroughly entertaining evening, one that's well worth the trip to Walnut Creek.

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