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BWW Review: SWEET CHARITY: Good for Your Heart and Soul

Sweet Charity

Book by Neil Simon, Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics by Dorothy Fields; Based on an original screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ennio Flaiano; Produced for the Broadway Stage by Fryer, Carr, and Harris; Conceived, Staged, and Choreographed by Bob Fosse; Directed and Choreographed by Ilyse Robbins, Musical Direction by Bethany Aiken; Scenic Design, Jon Savage; Lighting Design, Franklin Meissner, Jr.; Costume Design, Tyler Kinney; Sound Design, John Stone; Props Master, Brendan Conroy; Production Stage Manager, Rachel Policare; Assistant Stage Manager, Maegan Alyse Passafume

CAST (in alphabetical order): Meghan Ahern, Sarah Elizabeth Berube, Deirdre Burke, Serge Clivio, Nicholas Davis, Vanessa Dunleavy, Kimberly Fife, Steve Gagliastro, Andrew Giordano, David Jiles, Jr., Sarah Kawalek, Maria LaRossa, Christine A. Maglione, Dustienne Miller, Christopher Leon Pittman, Matty Rickard, Nick Sulfaro, Kerri Wilson

Performances through April 24 at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA; Box Office 781-279-2200 or

Boston area theatregoers have two opportunities this month to jump into the Wayback Machine and experience musical theater the way it used to be. The national tour of The Sound of Music is at the Boston Opera House through April 10th, offering a fresh take on the final collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein which premiered on Broadway in 1959, and the Stoneham Theatre presents the classic Bob Fosse-conceived musical comedy Sweet Charity, directed and choreographed by Elliot Norton Award and IRNE Award winner Ilyse Robbins. While paying homage to the 1966 original staging and Tony Award-winning choreography by Fosse, Robbins puts her artistic stamp on the show, making it feel current and using the considerable dance talents of her ensemble.

Meet Charity Hope Valentine, the dance hall hostess who wants to be loved, and I'm quite sure you will love her as portrayed by Vanessa Dunleavy. She has a 1000-watt smile, a bubbly stage persona, fluid dance moves, and the ability to tug on the heartstrings as she perseveres through all of the little dramas in Charity's life. Robbins struck gold when she mined this triple threat performer to lead the stellar company, a mix of Stoneham Theatre veterans and newcomers. In the former category, following his acclaimed appearance as Trevor Graydon in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Andrew Giordano plays Vittorio Vidal, the movie star Charity crushes on, and he is swoon worthy, especially when he lends his velvety voice to "Too Many Tomorrows." Steve Gagliastro is a crusty curmudgeon as Herman, the dance hall boss, and shows off his lilting tenor ("I Love to Cry at Weddings"), David Jiles, Jr. (Daddy Brubeck) is hip and funky as the spiritual leader of the Rhythm of Life Church, and Nick Sulfaro (Oscar) is a bundle of neuroses as the guy who seems to be Charity's Mr. Right.

On the distaff side as Charity's loyal dance-hall sidekicks, Christine A. Maglione (Nickie) and Maria LaRossa (Helene) convey a spicy mix of hard-bitten and soft-hearted women who are resigned to their fates, and their wistful duet ("Baby Dream Your Dream") is a poignant moment. Like Dunleavy, Maglione and LaRossa are triple threats with excellent comic timing. The entire dance-hall troupe slouches and vamps provocatively ("Big Spender"), and they transition into new age, hippie-style movements to worship with Daddy Brubeck. Robbins displays expertise with the signature Fosse style, especially when the ensemble trips the light fantastic in "Rich Man's Frug," and captures the inherent spirit and joy in her choreography for "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and "I'm a Brass Band."

The Cy Coleman (music) and Dorothy Fields (lyrics) score is filled with treasures that Music Director Bethany Aiken and her band of five put across with panache. They sit atop the set, a vital component of the company for the many song and dance numbers. The men (Serge Clivio, Nicholas Davis, Christopher Leon Pittman, and Dance Captain Matty Rickard) are the nameless patrons at the dance hall, the formally-dressed frug dancers, and the brass band marchers. The women of the ensemble (Meghan Ahern, Sarah Elizabeth Berube, Deirdre Burke, Kimberly Fife, Sarah Kawalek, Dustienne Miller, and Kerri Wilson) are Charity's co-workers and frug dancers. They are a talented unit of singers and dancers who showcase Robbins' choreography with style.

The design team (Jon Savage - set, Franklin Meissner, Jr. - lighting, Tyler Kinney - costume, and John Stone - sound) creates an aura of the 60s, and kudos to Emily Damron (hair & makeup) for the bouncy red wig that helps Dunleavy channel a couple of famous former Charitys. But that, as they say, is merely the icing on the cake as Dunleavy is the total package. She is a real charmer, captivating when onstage and making you long for her to return in the rare moments when she's not. She exudes the hope that is Charity's middle name and keeps the audience rooting for her with ardor, similar to the way that we clap for the dying Tinkerbell. When Robbins name is associated with a musical, it is a solid bet that the choreography will be topnotch. Sweet Charity cements her reputation as a director who knows what she's doing.

Photo credit: Nile Hawver/Nile Scott Shots (Vanessa Dunleavy)

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From This Author Nancy Grossman