BWW Review: Reprise 2.0 Inaugurates its Return with SWEET CHARITY at UCLA's Freud Playhouse
Reprise is back after being absent from the Los Angeles theatre scene since 2013, reborn with Marcia Seligson again at the helm of the company which presents lesser known or little revived musicals to appreciative audiences via their association with the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television's Department of Theater. This year's Reprise 2.0 season includes SWEET CHARITY from June 20-July 1, VICTOR VICTORIA from September 5-16, and GRAND HOTEL from October 24-November 4, with each production directed, choreographed and starring some the best professional artists on any stage in our city.
Directed and choreographed by musical theatre whiz Kathleen Marshall with Musical Direction by Gerald Sternbach who brilliantly directs a full orchestra seen onstage as part of the staircase set designed by Stephen Gifford, SWEET CHARITY stars Laura Bell Bundy who brings the joy and wonder of Charity Hope Valentine energetically to the Freud Playhouse stage. With her heart literally worn on her sleeve, the musical follows the dance hall hostess as she searches around the mean streets of New York City in 1966 in her attempt to be loved. Among those men who always find a reason to use and then leave her, not just for sex but for her generous heart and giving nature, is her first love, Charlie (Evan Strand) whose name she has tattooed in a heart on her arm. But he throws her into water in order to steal her life savings in her purse as she sings his praises in "You Should See Yourself."
Taking refuge in the Fandango dance hall with the other lost and lonely girls who seem resigned to their lot in life as they welcome male customers with the sexy "Big Spender" number, we are introduced to her two BFFs Nickie (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer) and Helene (Krystal Joy Brown), true friends who support Charity with a shoulder to cry on every time her heart gets broken. When a chance meeting occurs with handsome movie star Vittorio Vidal (Robert Mammana) in front of the Pompeii Club as he is breaking up with his hot Italian lady love Ursula (Ashley Loren in a gorgeous, evening gown ensemble designed by Angela Balogh Calin), Charity is soon whisked off to his expensive, high-rise apartment where, after offering him a shoulder to cry on and her body for comfort, which gentlemanly Vittorio declines, as he leaves the bedroom to retrieve a top hat and cane as his way of thanks, Charity celebrates her good fortune with the popular "If My Friends Could See Me Now." Of course, Ursula shows up to reconcile, causing Charity to hide in the closet as the two cavort in his bed. Charity awakes in the morning, sharing with us as she is escorted out, "Talk about your foreign movies!"
After a rousing "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" with Nickie and Helene, Charity gets stuck in an elevator between high rise floors with shy accountant Oscar (Barrett Foa), a man with even more phobias than she has. To assist in calming their nerves, the two proclaim "I'm The Bravest Individual" even though neither really is any such type person. Oscar is immediately smitten with this woman he believes works in a bank and is quite virginal, dubbing her "Sweet Charity." Of course, she decides to not tell him the truth for several weeks as the two fall in love, with their most spectacular date night being spent at a church revival meeting led by Daddy Brubeck (Terron Brooks) with "Rhythm of Life," an invigorating ensemble number choreographed using the many staircase steps to their full potential in the show's largest and most entertaining production number.
The closing number takes place in the Fandango as its owner Herman (Jon Jon Briones) leads his troupe of dancers in a surprise wedding send-off for Charity and Oscar with "I Love to Cry at Weddings," which eventually leads to Charity crying over Oscar realizing the type of life she had led and then breaking up with her for being the type of woman he could never marry. But as Charity leaves the stage, telling the audience how she knows there will come a day when her dream of being love is realized, you cannot help but applaud not only her strong will and stamina, but Laura Bell Bundy's amazing ability to let us inside the heart and soul of such a beloved musical theatre character first brought to life on Broadway by director Bob Fosse as a riotously colorful valentine to his then-wife, Broadway dancing phenomenon Gwen Verdon.
With thrilling music by Cy Coleman, whip-smart lyrics by Dorothy Fields and a sharp and touching book by Neil Simon, don't miss your chance to see the Reprise 2.0 production of SWEET CHARITY at UCLA's Freud Playhouse in Macgowan Hall, 245 Charles E Young Dr E , Los Angeles, CA 90095 through Sunday, July 1 on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday evenings at 8 pm; Saturdays at 2pm and 8 pm; Sundays at 2pm and 7 pm, Tickets from $30 (students) to $75-$110 reserved seat admission, available by calling (800) 982-2787 or online at Reprise2.org
Photo Credit: Michael Lamont