Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Review: SWEET CHARITY at Candlelight Music Theatre

Review: SWEET CHARITY at Candlelight Music Theatre

They pay their actors and creative crew only a stipend.

As a 5 decade long advocate for Candlelight Dinner Theatre, first as actor and then as reviewer, it is immensely gratifying to witness that not only have they survived but prospered over these years. They pay their actors and creative crew only a stipend. To a man/woman, "they do it for love". Having been in tens of theatres over the years, no company exhibits the consistent joy and passion as do those that grace Candlelight's stage. The packed house on opening night of SWEET CHARITY felt that vibe.

Charity Hope Valentine (Phoebe Gavula) is a taxi dancer at the Fandango Ballroom in NYC circa the 70's. Men enter and pay Herman the manager (JJ Vavrik) for the dancing. The women are "hostess" girls, "social consultants". (Ha)! As the first production number "Hey, Big Spender" vividly suggests, the Fandango femmes are not thrilled with their position in life. "We're not dancers, we defend ourselves to music".

But, hostess Charity is an irrepressible Panglossian optimist, literally wearing her heart on her arm. As the name suggests, she is constantly looking for the best in people for love. Alas, she is continually being snookered on both accounts. As her friend Nikki laments: "your problem is you run your heart like a hotel - you got guys checkin' in and out all the time".

Director Jessica Bostok did a wonderful job creating the attitudes on the ensembles' plight in life. The 'stop action' in one scene was particularly effective in the nightclub.

Going over my notes from past production numbers, I attempted to consider a more innovative routine than "Rich Man's Frug" by choreographer Jody Anderson. There was Devon Sinclair's work in BIG FISH, there was Dann Dunn's in CABARET, there was HAIRSPRAY. Anderson's electrifying effort in "Rich Man" equals that. (Caveat: Sinclair's dances in BIG FISH were created by him. Every dance in Fosse shows are derivative of "The Master" and therefore mimicked).

The wigs and head pieces by Clayton Stacey, costumes by Timothy Lamot Cannon and the surreal, inventive lighting by Matthew Kator created a one of a kind showstopper concluding with raucous outburst from the guests. Kator's dramatic lighting adds both depth and lustre to the production. Stacey was in his element with all the over the top bouffant hairdos.

The dance sequences are worth the price of admission alone. The original choreographer Bob Fosse, with his distinct style, reshaped the aesthetics of modern musical theater. Fosse is as recognizable to dance as Trump is to lying. Think curved shoulders, turned-in knees, punctuated hand movements, finger snaps, sideways shuffling - and, yes, jazz hands. The dancers executed perfectly, especially Charity (Phoebe Gavula), Nicki (Beth Dugan) and Rosie (Olivia Sauerberg).

Sauerberg's bio states that she is a sophomore in college. Aisle Say suggests she is not long for this tri-state region. Think back in the 70's when Susan Stroman quitted Wilmington for Herald Square. A few years later she impressed Hal Prince and well...the rest is history. This sophomore has that much potential. Oh, and Rosie's ponytail whirligig was a hoot.

Charity (Phoebe Gavula)'s acting outweighs her singing. She grew with each number. In the second act, she nailed it with the chemistry between she and Oscar and her solo "I'm A Brass Band".

If memory serves, Aisle Say first saw Oscar (Jared Calhoun) in BRIGADOON. Since that time, his presence on stage has been an undisputable asset to the company. He's a triple threat with a powerful voice. With each succeeding show, we witness his versatility. Calhoun's comic chops were on full display, most notably with his Jerry Lewis elastic face, displaying the 7 stages of claustrophobic horror in the elevator scene with Charity. "Just let me out for a few minutes and I promise to come back".

Basketball coaches say "you can't teach height". Aisle Say suggests you can't teach charm. Calhoun was probably born with it. I dunno, check his baby pictures. Ask his Mom.

Aisle Say concedes he has no background in orthopedics. But it cannot be denied that the skeletal configuration of Big Daddy (Bryan Jeffrey) is unlike most other humans. In the opening sequence of "Rhythm Of Life", it was utterly apparent that Jeffrey's pelvis is double jointed. There is no other explanation. His mid section movements cascaded down like a Colorado River rapids, eliciting an involuntary "WOW" from my female companion. Sammy Davis, Jr played Big Daddy (film) and Ben Vereen (stage). Both would be proud of Jeffrey's portrayal. One would not be surprised if his choreographic background aided in the dance sequences.

CHARITY is a costume-heavy production with scenes in dance dives, ballrooms, bedrooms, brass bands and bohemia. Costumer Cannon was true in each setting. One wonders why the titular character never changed costume or boots? Of all the costumes in the show, this was the most unappealing choice. It grew repetitive. It grew tiresome.

The food is well proportioned and savory. The servers, many of whom are in the show, are the coolest people. This evening, the chef added bay to their signature shrimp. Aisle Say prefers his naked, but who is he to judge? Garlic mashed potatoes? Mais oui!

Really? $70.00 for a dinner AND wonderful show? Aisle Say continues to pronounce Candlelight "the best value in theatre".

Through August 28 https://cloud.broadwayworld.com/rec/ticketclick.cfm?fromlink=2187637®id=107&articlelink=https%3A%2F%2Fcandlelighttheatredelaware.org?utm_source=BWW2022&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=article&utm_content=bottombuybutton1/ 302.475.2313

Next up: SHIRLEY VALENTINE September 2-3




From This Author - Greer Firestone

Greer Firestone has been reviewing professional theatre for 35 years. As a playwright he wrote and produced JUDY GARLAND "World's... (read more about this author)


Review: SWEET CHARITY at Candlelight Music Theatre
July 24, 2022

What did our critic think As a 5 decade long advocate for Candlelight Dinner Theatre, first as actor and then as reviewer, it is immensely gratifying to witness that not only have they survived but prospered over these years. They pay their actors and creative crew only a stipend. To a man/woman, “they do it for love”. Having been in tens of theatres over the years, no company exhibits the consistent joy and passion as do those that grace Candlelight’s stage. The packed house on opening night of SWEET CHARITY felt that vibe.of SWEET CHARITY at Candlelight Music Theatre?

BWW Previews: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF at The Playhouse
June 6, 2022

Aisle Say has seen probably 600 shows in 65 years. Some I have been in, some I produced and directed. The vast majority are those he’s reviewed over 35+ years. However, next week at The Playhouse with a 4-day run of FIDDLER beginning June 9, Aisle Say announces a first! Never before has he heard a Samoan tenor.

BWW Review: BIG FISH at Candlelight Music Theatre
April 4, 2022

Aisle Say’s most recent review was at DE Theatre Co’s OTHER WORLD, the largest and most technically challenging production in their 45-year history. The budgets of that show versus the cost of Candlelight’s BIG FISH are as dissimilar as Mt. Kilimanjaro to Brandywine Park’s Monkey Hill.

BWW Review: OTHER WORLD at Delaware Theatre Company
March 10, 2022

In it’s 45+ years existence, Delaware Theatre Company has never mounted a production of this magnitude. Originally scheduled to open 2 years ago at Bucks County Playhouse, the world went topsy turvy.

BWW Review: MAMA MIA at Candlelight Music Theatre
February 1, 2022

Mama Mia must be one of the greatest juke box musicals of all time. When the film came out, a colleague mentioned that Pierce Brosnan had an atrocious voice, so I passed. He had star power. That is how two of the most horrendous miscastings of movie musicals were cast; Marlon Brando in Guys and Dolls and even worse, Russell Crowe in Les Mis.