It’s hard to believe that Charity Hope Valentine’s slightly skewed, slice-of-life musical story – Sweet Charity — has passed the half-century mark. But the unlucky-in-love New York City dance hall worker whose well-intentioned intentions often go sliding off the rails is back in a perked-up presentation that uses lots of the newly installed techno-glitz at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre.
The production that taps Jennifer Sanchez – an actress whose quirky traits and powerful voice make her a top-notch choice for the title role – heads a stellar troupe of singers and dancers in a delightful production that continues through Jan. 29.
Charity H.V. first appeared on the Broadway stage in 1966 in the personage of Gwen Verdon, working opposite character actor John McMartin in a performance choreographed, produced and directed by her then-husband, Bob Fosse. McMartin and Fosse moved on to create a 1969 film but replaced Verdon with Shirley MacLaine.
The stage production sports some great music and stylish dialogue. The ensemble of players assembled by Marcos Santana, a two-time Tony Award nominee who aptly directs and choreographs the theater’s latest musical entry, excels.
Sweet Charity is based on a book by Neil Simon, who loosely adapted the story from the 1957 Federico Fellini film, “Nights in Cabiria.” Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields put together the Tony Award-winning musical score that includes many tunes that have become classics: “Big Spender,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “Baby, Dream Your Dream” and “Too Many Tomorrows.”
Jennifer Sanchez, left, with dancers in Sweet Charity at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. (Jason Nuttle Photography)
Simon’s script follows Charity and friends through a series of misadventures and documents her unfortunate tendency to offer her heart to the wrong man. Sadly, the famed playwright spends a little too much time on Charity’s shortcomings and not enough on her spunk and personal fortitude – traits that don’t appear until late in the performance – but in time to save an indefinite finale.
The Maltz makes good use of its new back-of-the-stage projection screen to add color, depth and oomph to the set designs and the action in general. The play opens with a realistic New York skyscape glistening behind a Central Park foreground.
Charity is there to meet so-called boyfriend, Charlie, who ends up stealing her handbag and pushing her into a lake. A crowd gathers to ponder her situation, but no one helps. Two cops finally arrive to rescue the drenched victim.
In the dressing room at the Fandango Ballroom – a place of employment Charity calls a “musical snake pit” – her dance hostess buddies Nickie (Erin Kei) and Helene (Ashley McManus) try to perk her up. But Herman (Arthur Joseph Cuadros), the “big boss” who bellows his orders, demands they get back to work and engage the guys who drop in for a little pay-to-dance recreation.
Dancers perform the signature song, “Hey, Big Spender” in Sweet Charity at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. (Jason Nuttle Photography)
This sets the stage for the show’s signature dance number, “Big Spender,” a winning performance by the Fandango girls. The playful lyrics, “Do you want to have fun?” and “I can show you a good time” connect with the orchestra’s bump-and-grind back beat to kick the show into overdrive.
Charity’s next mortification happens in the bedroom of famed actor, Vittorio Vidal (Sergi Robles). Impressed with his fancy abode, she breaks into a dance-filled rendition of “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Charity ends up hiding in a closet after Vittorio’s girlfriend, Ursula (Emily Van Vliet Perea) shows up to apologize to her paramour for a previous argument.
Fate draws her back to the Fandango – again — where Charity, Nickie and Helene all talk of ways to get out of their dismal dance predicament – set to the excellent, up-tempo tune, “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.”
Positivity prevails when Charity and Oscar Lindquist (Jesse Swimm) get stuck in an elevator. In a scene that has the audience in stitches, she calms his claustrophobic panic with “I’m the Bravest Individual”.
Their relationship quickly blossoms. In a bold move, Oscar kisses her hand, and dubs her Sweet Charity (to the tune, “Sweet Charity”).
Jesse Swimm and Jennifer Sanchez in Sweet Charity at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. (Jason Nuttle Photography)
With love in the making, Charity and Oscar visit the Rhythm of Life Church – an early incarnation of hippie culture. Brett Sturges as singing minister Danny Brubeck leads the ensemble with “The Rhythm of Life,” a soulful, stylish number met with great dancing.
Things begin to happen fast. Charity quits the dance hall business (“Where Am I Going?”). She celebrates with a pre-nup party at the Fandango because someone loves her (“I’m a Brass Band”). The ensemble gathers to sing, “I Love to Cry at Weddings,” with Baida, as Herman, displaying a powerful voice that stretches over several octaves.
But will there be a wedding to cry at? You decide.
Overall, Sweet Charity is an engaging show with talented performers and wonderful effects. Sanchez, in her Maltz debut, certainly underscores the sweetness and hope of her character.
The male dance ensemble in Sweet Charity at the Maltz Jupiter Theatre. (Jason Nuttle Photography)