Despite introducing some of musical theater’s most timeless songs, Sweet Charity is definitely a product of its era, with its fractured storytelling and underdeveloped themes of spirituality and women’s independence. However, despite the polyester feel to the show, the Aurora Theatre’s production leaves you singing these now classic Broadway tunes.
While there are a number of issues to be raised about this production of a musical that is clearly showing its age, the cast more than makes up for the show’s limitations. This small cast of nine fills the stage with the excitement and zeal of one five times its size.
The obvious focus of the production is the successes and drawbacks found in the direction by Atlanta-native Sean Daniels. Co-Founder of Dad’s Garage, a successful improv theater in Atlanta, Daniels has gone on to work with some of the country’s most esteemed regional theaters. Back in Georgia to direct two shows for the Aurora, Daniels has brilliantly scaled back the size of the cast to just nine, allowing for the two strongest members of the cast to shine in multiple roles, however, he also seems to whole-heartedly embrace the script’s vintage nature, which at times is to the show’s detriment.
With a proven track-record as one of Broadway’s best at joining humor and pathos, book writer Neil Simon (The Odd Couple; Promises, Promises) transforms Federico Fellini’s much darker Nights of Cabiria into a silly sit-com for the stage about Charity Hope Valentine, a hopeless romantic, who has every reason to give up hope. While Fellini’s title character is a prostitute, Charity is just a “dance hall hostess”, who dances with lonely men for money. Played by Rebecca Simon, here Charity is quarky and hapless to the point that it is difficult to connect with the title character. While Simon represents herself well in all aspects of her performance, she is not helped by the fact that Daniels’ approach to the script is at best episodic and at worst disjointed, seemingly choosing to play each scene as a stand-alone skit, rather than a piece of a larger puzzle that allows for greater character continuity.
Many of the shows wonderful fairly-modern standards (“Big Spender”, “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, and “I’m the Bravest Individual”) with music by Cy Coleman (On the Twentieth Century, The Will Rogers Follies) and lyrics by Dorothy Fields (Annie Get Your Gun, Redhead), serve as the show’s most prominent strengths, but most of the other songs, including the glorious “The Rhythm of Life,” led by Jevares C. Myrick, are not integrated into the larger story-telling, which further exacerbates the show’s already unsteady flow.
An Atlanta-native himself, Trent Blanton assumes the roles of all three of Charity’s romantic interests throughout the show. This allows Blanton to create three distinct characters, all of which he performs impressively. From the dastardly Charlie to the suave, baritone Italian movie star Vittorio Vidal and primarily as the neurotic Oscar, Blanton’s comedic chops and multi-faceted voice make you forget that he is only one man.
The down-sized cast also allows Jimi Kocina to steal scenes in what otherwise would have been minor roles. Kocina literally, and figuratively, wears numerous hats throughout the show, all to comedic delight, but his best turn is as Herman, the boss at the seedy Fandango Ballroom, where Charity and her friends dance (and maybe a little more) for money. His rendition of “I Love to Cry at Weddings” is the one of the comedic highlights of the show.
Jen MacQueen’s choreography does at times harken back to Bob Fosse’s original, but too often it appears to include anachronistic nuances and can be overly intricate for the cast.
While Sweet Charity probably will never stand as one of the beacons of Broadway’s greatness, the songs and the Aurora’s adept cast make the show more than enjoyable.
Sweet Charity is running at the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville through September 2. For tickets, visit their website or call 678-226-6222.
– Matt Tamanini