This review also appears in Western Park Gazette
Book by Neil Simon
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed by Lotte Wakeham
Sweet Charity is one of musical theatre’s classics: winner of multiple Tony awards at its Broadway opening in 1966 and much-loved, 1969 Oscar-nominated film starring Shirley MacLaine. How can anyone ignore a humdinger of a song like ‘Big Spender’?
The National Youth Music Theatre are popping their corks at Curve this week with their production; quite a difficult musical to tackle with its quirkiness, adult themes and a challenging score.
However, Andrew Lloyd Webber states this is ‘the best youth music theatre in the world’ and who am I to disagree? A scan through the programme reveals a frighteningly young cast (most are mid to late teens) yet their maturity as performers is impressive.
Charity Hope Valentine (Jade Johnson) is a dancer-for-hire at the New York Fandango ballroom, a girl who just wants to be loved but with a knack for falling for the wrong guy. She finally meets the man she wants to marry but even though Charity is ‘nuts for a happy ending’, we all know love doesn’t work like that.
Johnson is likeable and strong as Charity, more playing up the laughs than pulling at your heart. Tom Robinson cuts a fine dash as Vittorio the movie star and Stuart Thompson is nicely sleazy as Fandango’s owner, Herman.
Demonstrating great comic timing, an almost flawless New Yoik accent and a powerful voice, Ruby Ablett shines as Nickie. Also worth a mention is Florence Russell as Frenchy, very nearly owning the stage with sharp, slick dancing.
The showstoppers are enjoyable: ‘Big Spender’, ‘The Rhythm of Life’ and ‘Rich Man’s Frug’ and Musical Director Tom Deering and his team of musicians are spot on. Lucie Pankhurst’s choreography has a good flavour of Fosse’s distinctive style although it looked a little cramped on the Studio stage for the dancers to really let rip.
Placards between scenes are an amusing touch although occasional messages demanding ‘votes for all’ and ‘against segregation’ are a little confusing. Whilst that presumably helps establish time and context, it doesn’t seem to fit with the story.
Minor niggles apart, this is an impressive production of an infrequently performed musical, and dare I say it, a show of distinction.
Sweet Charity is at Curve 19 – 22 August
Images supplied by National Youth Music Theatre