By Barry Gordin & Patrick Christiano
The Broadway revival of the 1966 Cy Coleman musical Sweet Charity starring television’s Christina Applegate (Married… with Children) is not nearly as bad as the advance buzz had suggested, but there’s no brass ring here either. Most notable for Coleman’s wonderful music featuring lovely tunes with lyrics by Dorothy Field, the show’s background journey to the Al Hirschfeld Theatre is ultimately more interesting than most of what happens on stage.
Nearly everyone knows Ms. Applegate broke her foot during out of town tryouts and had to be replaced by her understudy. The producers decided to close the show before coming into town, but the persistent star convinced them to do otherwise, so she might fulfill her lifelong dream of appearing in a Broadway show. Rumor has it the deal was sweetened with money from the star’s own pocketbook. Apparently in America even dreams are for sale.
The original was conceived, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, based on the Federico Fellini film “Nights of Cabiria” about a prostitute. The current revival directed by Walter Bobbie with energetic style and choreographed by Wayne Cilento owes much to Mr. Fosse’s original influence, but misses his seediness. One of the production’s best elements is the choreography, which although interesting to watch, adds little to the characterizations and like the show itself is rather generic.
Neil Simon has revised his slender original book, which tells the tender story of a dancehall hostess Charity Hope Valentine’s search for love. A naï ;ve woman of questionable moral values, she discovers herself instead. The poignant tale begins with Charity being dumped, literally, in Central Park’ ;s lake, by her boyfriend Charlie (Tyler Hanes), who steals her purse instead of proposing. Clinging to her belief that it was an accident and believing that he will call to explain, she returns to the dancehall, where her savvy colleagues attempt to set her straight. As the tale unfolds, the unlucky in love Charity eventually meets a shy accountant, Oscar Lindquist (Dennis O’ Hare) at the 92nd St . Y, where the two get trapped in a stalled elevator and love seemingly blossoms.
Bob Fosse must be turning over in his grave. The show relies heavily on the talents and vulnerability of its leading lady. He created the role for the legendary dancer Gwen Vernon. Another legend Debbie Allen brought Charity to life in 1986, and while Ms. Applegate has a plucky spirit enhanced by a charming comic style, she is not really a dancer or a singer. She possesses an above average voice, and dances considerably better, but everything is on one level. If she were an outstanding actress, this might not matter, but she isn’t. Yes, she does everything fine with energy and conviction. She even has presence and gives us a few crocodile tears, but there is no depth to the work. Without the pathos she isn’t moving and in the end you don’t really care much about this Charity.
Several of her songs would be showstoppers in the hands of a more gifted performer. This is painfully apparent near the end of the first act when Ms Applegate sings “Where Am I Going.” What could be a cathartic character moment infused with a mixture of excitement and fear comes off instead as a weak whimper.
Ms. Applegate is surrounded by an excellent team. Every design aspect of the show while maybe not as imaginative as the original, nonetheless, gleams and the supporting players are polished as well. Dennis O’Hare as the neurotic Oscar is a standout and the scene when the two are trapped in the elevator is one of the evening’s highlights. He is absolutely hysterical demonstrating a duality of character and aliveness that much of the evening lacks.
One has to admire Ms. Applegate’s courage and determination. I suspect she will satisfy her television fans, who may never have been to a Broadway show, as well as the tourists, who will be wowed by the glitziness. Give her an A plus for effort. The plus is for the big wad of cash she reportedly sunk into the show. The producers and director get an A for supporting her with a gifted team. A simple suggestion to Ms. Applegate, however, next time pick a vehicle more suited to your many talents, and when God breaks your foot, recognize maybe it’s enough already.
Sweet Charity opened at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre 302 West 45th St on May 4, 2005. For tickets call 212-239-6200.
This review originally published in Dan’s Papers, May 20, 2005.
Barry Gordin & Patrick Christiano are theatre critics. Barry Gordin is an internationally renowned photographer. They can reached at firstname.lastname@example.org