It's not hard to see why Sweet Charity is still being produced nearly 50 years after its debut.
The current production by Pioneer Theatre Company is a frenetic, colorful blast of energy that easily transports the audience back in time to tell the story of Charity Hope Valentine, a dancehall girl who lives for falling in love. It has some of the most familiar songs in theater history--as someone who generally hates musicals, even I recognized the appeal of "Big Spender" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now" in their original context. And the dance numbers are truly impressive.
Sweet Charity depends heavily on the audience falling in love with the girl who wants to fall in love, and Nancy Lemenager makes that part pretty easy in her take on Charity. From her first scene, when her boyfriend steals her money and pushes her in a lake, Lemanager-as-Charity maintains a positive outlook on her challenges that naturally puts the audience in her corner. Granted, the scene when she hands out what little money she had to various beggars on the New York City streets was a bit egregious, but it left no doubt that Charity truly has a heart of gold.
From that rocky start, Charity's luck starts to change--first through a chance meeting with a Hollywood idol named Vittorio Vidal (Sean McDermott), and later through an elevator encounter with befuddled nice guy Oscar Lindquist (John Scherer). Along her search for happiness, the audience is treated to a series of ornately orchestrated song-and-dance numbers. Most impressive to me was the "Rich Man's Frug," featuring the massive cast, adorned in excellent period-hipster costumes, coolly moving around the hip Pompeii Club, where Charity and Vittorio first get to know each other--until she passes out and he has to take her to his apartment to recuperate.
Lemenager carries Sweet Charity, her combination of acting, singing and dancing dominating the show. Even with a crowded stage on some of the larger numbers, she stood out. The aforementioned costumes, designed by Patrick Holt, are exciting enough to thrill any fashionista in the audience, and the cartoonish, colorful sets are the perfect environs for this sweet theater confection.
Sweet Charity runs through May 24 at Pioneer Memorial Theater. Tickets, showtimes and more information available at the company's website. (Photo by Alexander Weisman)