BWW Review: Brick by Brick Arts Bring Back The Swinging 60's in SWEET CHARITY
Brick by Brick Arts has put up a sweet production of "Sweet Charity". Director Jeff Walker takes full advantage of every bit of space in the Martha Moore Sykes Studio at the Virginia Sanford Theatre. Walker was able to work in a large cast, house band and set pieces.
Before I give my review I feel it's necessary to give some backstory on Sweet Charity. Comedy legend Neil Simon wrote the play in the free spirited electric 60's. He based his script on a risqué Italian screenplay by Frederico Fellini called Nights of Cabiria. Fellini's story follows a young woman's romantic folly in her career as a sex worker. Steamy stuff for sure. To church it up for American audiences Simon watered it down to be about a girl named Charity working as a private dancer in a seedy dance hall in New York City. She makes a living dancing with men for a few bucks. These were called taxi dances. This point of origin is where we find Charity on the outs with her latest no-good fella. She urns for love but literally gets tossed overboard whenever she opens her heart and wallet to men. With all that being said Sweet Charity is period comedy musical with some muddy areas of sadness.
Charity (Tahauny Cleghorn) is a young dancer who wears her heart on her sleeve. Her days and nights are spent giving taxi dances. Fate crosses her path with love in Charlie, Vittorio Vidal and Oscar Lindquist (B.J. Underwood). The music and dance numbers in the show are polished and ripe with the vibe of New York City in the late 60's. There are many hit numbers in the show you may remember like "You Should See Yourself", "Big Spender", "Rhythm of Life" and "If My Friends Could See Me Now." Cleghorn is a bright eyed angel voiced Charity. She is a triple threat with spunky demeanor. She has a gifted voice but did not seem grasp the emotional nuances of Charity. The notes were all there but it felt like she had not yet discovered Charity's soul. She gives a good performance but could benefit with more connection with the character and vocal projection.
B.J. Underwood flawlessly portrays the three completely different suitors wooing Charity. Underwood has a stage presence and commitment of a seasoned professional. Putting his character work to task, Underwood plays with panache a beatnik, an Italian move star and a nervous mensch. This effective concept was candy to Underwood. "Our director Jeff wanted it to look like if Charity is going to date the same kind of guy lets make it be the same guy playing him. It's fun finding the differences." Underwood's instincts, comedy timing and nuances give credit to each role. He captures the audience with a fun delivery; bringing laughs and tears.
Sara James gives a powerful performance as the brash dancer Nickie and the hilarious European starlet Ursula. James fearlessly shares her heart and soul in each line and note she delivers. She brings focused character work on stage with complete commitment and comedy chops. She was drawn to this show for such a reason. "These characters have life and are big. I always love that in a role." Her honest delivery gets you emotionally invested in her characters. James's opera training delivers a captivating voice that is a highlight in the show.
Chelsea Orr plays Charity's sassy dancer friend Helene. She has a firm grasp on Helene's moxie, hard edges and her dreams to want more. Her delivery and voice is spot on. The angelic harmonies she shares with Cleghorn and James are another highlight.
Working with a small orchestra was a challenge early on for musical director Lindsey Underwood. "We didn't have the resources to get lots of musicians. There are so many parts that needed to be played. We had to finagle a lot with the parts. It looks easy and sounds easy, but I hope we pulled it off." The energetic music of the show is no walk in the park to perform. "The music is really hard. It doesn't sound like it would be challenging until when you try to teach it." Underwood gives credit to the commitment of the musicians and actors. "All of us have fulltime jobs. Some of us have families. People have obligations outside of this and the fact we were able to come together and make it happen. It's so rewarding. I'm getting chills just thinking about hearing "Rhythm of life" tonight from where it was the first day of rehearsal."
Choreographers Jenna Bellamy and Brandi Hill give some slick moves to the cast
Kudos to set designer Mike Hill and lighting designer Jason Jiles. Their work accentuates the performance with much color and character. The steamy red lighting in the number "Big Spender" specifically was a piece of art. It made it feel like you were right in that seedy dance hall waiting for a taxi dance.
Charity's hope to find love is treated like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. Just when she gets close Lucy pulls the ball away making him fall to the ground. For some this comedy scenario plays out equally for a cartoon and for a young woman looking for love. Brick by Brick Arts production of "Sweet Charity" holds many memorable moments. The lines and songs are still making me laugh and smile. It's a throw back to the late 60's that is worth a dime for a taxi dance.
Brick by Brick Arts Present Sweet Charity
Directed by Jeff Walker
Virginia Samford Theatre
1116 26th St S, Birmingham, Alabama 35205
August 11 - August 12 7:30pm (SOLD OUT)
Aug 13 Matinee at 2pm
Tickets at www.eventbrite.com