|The Fandango Girls perform "Big Spender"|
(photo courtesy ABT)
"With a memorably tuneful score by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields and a witty Neil Simon book, Fosse’s Sweet Charity is often described as a vanity musical. Inspired by the 1957 black and white Fellini drama, Nights of Cabiria, Fosse and his wife with the flaming red hair, celebrated dancer and muse to her husband’s creative excesses, the fabulous Gwen Verdon, together adapted the story of the prostitute in Rome who looked with little hope for true love and re-designed the plot as a vehicle to get them back where they both belonged; on Broadway. Choosing wisely to use the show as a nostalgia piece for the 60’s, on the wide ABT stage, proudly celebrating its sixties origins in its design and its references, Sweet Charity suddenly feels somehow fresh again. Liz Fallon as Charity Hope Valentine charms the moment she starts to talk. With a constant upbeat clarity of voice that constantly sounds as if she’s smiling, Fallon may not appear as slender as some of her previous Sweet Charity counterparts, but she dances with the agility of an experienced hoofer incorporating all of those signature Bob Fosse moves – the rolled shoulders, the sideways shuffle, those jazz hands – and sings with the muscle of a Broadway belter. Those in the back row will have no trouble. Director M. Seth Reines has made good choices throughout. Choreographer Kurtis W. Overby incorporates as much of the original as possible, and the large, capable cast rise to the demanding challenge. The musical highlights are many, including the epitome of everything Fosse created, Big Spender. When those horns blast and those less than dainty ladies of the Fandango slink towards us and wrap themselves around the railing, beckoning the next customer to spend a little time with them, Overby has really done his job. In the silences of the song, and the powerful, dead-pan manner of the ladies, all of whom would rather be somewhere else, the effect is one hundred percent Fosse. When you leave the show, it’s the excitement of the dance numbers and Liz Fallon’s winning personality you’ll remember the most. Liz’s innocent and upbeat Charity makes you believe she really will live hopefully ever after." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)
"The 1966 musical Sweet Charity has an exceptional jazz-influenced score with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. Based on Federico Fellini's Oscar winning film Nights of Cabiria, the musical has a slim yet charming book by Neil Simon that tells the story of hopelessly romantic dance hall hostess Charity Hope Valentine. The show was originally directed and choreographed on Broadway by Bob Fosse and starred his wife, Gwen Verdon. The Arizona Broadway Theatre production features a talented cast and colorful creative elements as well as choreography by Kurtis W. Overby, modeled on the signature style of Fosse, which explodes on the ABT stage. While Sweet Charity is considered a musical classic, and there are many hit songs that came from it that are instantly recognizable, those who've not seen the show before might be in for a bit of a surprise. Simon's book, while funny in parts, does adhere close to Fellini's original downtrodden, realistic script. So, while the musical sequences are upbeat and fun, don't expect the happiest of happy endings from the story.And while Fosse's choreography is rich in texture and style, some of the musical numbers, which are almost all blockbusters, can seem a little out of place, as if they were shoehorned in. This is especially notable in "Rich Man's Frug," three back-to-back dance sequences, with no words, that show off the impressive dance skills of the cast, as well as "The Rhythm of Life" that seems to mainly exist to make fun of the hippie movement springing up around the country at the time the show premiered. These musical numbers may be fun but they don't do much to advance the plot. However, with blockbuster songs like "Big Spender," "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This," and "I'm a Brass Band" and the gifted cast that ABT has assembled, you can look over the musical's shortcomings and just sit back and enjoy the show's many highlights. The ABT cast is impressive. Liz Fallon plays Charity perfectly as the always optimistic girl who has big dreams and is desperate to be loved. She also evokes a refined sense of purity even though Charity is technically anything but pure, which make the bad luck she encounters all the more moving. Fallon may be a bit curvier than past Charitys I've seen, but it actually works to her advantage as it sets her apart from the other dance hall girls and gives the character a better sense of realism. She has a clear, big belting voice and throws herself into the multitude of dance steps. She is funny, spunky, expressive and full of charm—everything you could ask for in the part. The actresses who play Charity's Fandango co-workers all have the dead eyes and uncaring looks of women who've been working at their profession for far too long and feel trapped. This is most apparent in the knock-out number "Big Spender," with the combination of the ladies' empty expressions and Overby's sleek choreography, which includes the ladies' legs twisted around the railings in the ballroom, evoking women who clearly wish they could be anywhere but where they are. Arizona Broadway Theatre's production of Sweet Charity is lovingly nostalgic, with impressive sets and costumes that evoke the signature and freewheeling '60s period of the show. While the story still leaves much to be desired, especially for those who've never seen this musical before, the combination of a winning cast, clear direction, and sensational choreography elevates the show's many showstoppers and makes this production not only entertaining but also a loving homage to the legacy of Bob Fosse." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)
"Sweet Charity! Brava! What a pedigree! Neil Simon's book. Cy Coleman's music. Dorothy Fields' lyrics. Original inspiration and choreography by Bob Fosse. Nine Tony nominations! What staying power! First produced on Broadway in 1966, the story of the ever-hopeful Charity Hope Valentine still manages to charm an audience. How sweet it is that Arizona Broadway Theatre has paid glorious tribute to this theatrical gem by mounting its own diamond of a production. Quality entertainment is the predictable product of this company, and, once again, ABT does not disappoint. Tastefully directed by Seth Reines and featuring the glowing talent of Liz Fallon as Charity, this show sparkles with a marvelous fusion of imaginative Peter Max-style set design (Geof Eroe), lighting (Jeff Davis), and costumes (John P. White). The ensemble is terrific, providing a full plate of sexy oomph and jazz to such numbers as Big Spender and Rich Man's Frug ~ and, in due course, reminding us of Fosse's classic genius. Where the inspiration for Sweet Charity derived from Fellini's Nights of Cabiria, the central character of the former is not a woman of the night but rather a taxi dancer at the Fan-Dango Ballroom. So far, unlucky in love, Charity subscribes to the fickle finger of fate theory of life. Inasmuch as her dance hall cohorts see themselves as irreversibly enmeshed in the "flypaper of life," Charity is the eternal optimist. As luck (?) would have it, she runs into Oscar Lindquist (Andy Meyers) who is on his way to a self-analytical discussion group. She opts to tag along. They get stuck in an elevator, which, ironically, gives a lift to their budding relationship. If Chastity is Panglossian, Oscar is quixotic in his quest for the virgin bride. For a glorious moment, love abides, and Oscar, smitten by Chastity, may overlook her less than chaste life. But, this is one windmill he can't beat; his scruples and his "fixation with purity" get the better of him. After all is sung and danced and done, Chastity cannot and will not be defeated. She remains open to life and aspirational, and, as the neon signs declare, "she lived ... hopefully ... ever after"." -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)
For more information on this production, that runs through May 10th, click here.