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April 11, 2017

Farewell Cock-Eyed Optimist

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Jessica Tanselle in Sweet Charity. Photo courtesy As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company.

Sweet Charity

Book by Neil Simon
Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed by Gary Tipton

Review by Annette Skaggs

Entire contents copyright © 2017 Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.

Chances are you have noticed Neil Simon’s Sweet Charity produced by high schools and/or colleges during some point of your life. Why, you may ask? It is probably because it is a fairly easily accessible musical to produce with a delightful story.

In Federico Fellini’s screenplay for his movie Nights of Cabari, on which Sweet Charity is based, the title character of Charity Hope Valentine (Jessica Tanselle) is an actual prostitute, but within Neil Simon’s interpretation she is a Times Square dance hall girl.

In walking along the lakefront with her “boyfriend” Charlie, Charity sings of the life that she imagines could be when they get married, after he divorces his current wife. She tells Charlie of the money that she has saved up for their apartment, calling it her dowry. Upon seeing the money, Charlie grabs the purse, pushes Charity into the lake, takes the cash and is never heard from again. Passersby just gawk at Charity in the lake and do nothing until she washes up closer to the shore. When she regains her composure and returns back to the Fandango Club, she shares with her fellow dance hall girls that she feels it was all an accident. Helene (Heidi Platt) and Nickie (Rebecca Leigh), Charity’s closest pals, convince her that she is living a fool’s paradise in believing that nonsense with Nickie famously saying, “you run your heart like a hotel — you’ve always got people checking in and checking out”. Such is Charity’s plight…a hopeless and giving romantic.

While walking out one night after giving away what little money she had to beggars, she comes upon the swanky Pompeii Club where movie star Vittorio Vidal (Rob Leffler) is in an argument with his lady friend Ursula (Jennifer Poliskie). Upon Ursula’s refusal to come back into the club, Vittorio invites Charity inside instead. Happily accepting, Charity spends most of the evening trying to deflect Vittorio’s need to discuss Ursula. Having not eaten, Charity faints on the dance floor and the two go back to Vittorio’s apartment so that she may recuperate. Upon waking up on Vittorio’s bed Charity offers payment for his kindness, but instead Vittorio feels indebted to Charity and offers props and a signed photograph as a way of thanking her (“If My Friends Could See Me Now”). Before Charity can leave the apartment, Ursula unexpectedly arrives and Charity is stuck in the closet for the night while the lovers kiss and make up (“Too Many Tomorrows”).

When Charity goes back to the Fandango the girls are disappointed with Charity that she should have gotten more out of Vittorio than she did, but the story gave them pause to think of a better life for themselves (“There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”). Believing that there indeed is, Charity makes her way to the local community center where self-help classes are being held. While on the elevator, she meets quiet tax accountant Oscar Lindquist. After some pleasantries the elevator becomes stuck, causing Oscar’s claustrophobia to come to a head. Charity does her best to assure Oscar that she is there to see him through (“Bravest Individual”) and that all will be alright. When the elevator begins to run, Oscar invites Charity to church, which she accepts with optimism.

As the two attend the rocking, counter-culture, Rhythm of Life church there is a police raid. On the way home Oscar guesses that Charity works for a bank, which she confirms through a lie, and they make plans for another date. They part for the evening with Oscar kissing her hand and calls her Sweet Charity.

Two weeks later, while on a Ferris wheel, the two get stuck. Charity is full of anxiety as she confesses that she is becoming reliant on Oscar being there to protect her, to which he promises to do so and the two kiss.

After having returned to the club and noticing how slow the evening has been for work, Charity decides that she needs a different direction (“Where Am I Going”). She sends a telegraph to Oscar, since he doesn’t have a phone, and asks him to meet her at Barney’s Chile Hacienda. Later in the evening the two meet and she tells Oscar of her job, to which he replies that he already knew, but doesn’t care and wishes to marry her.

Making her way back to the club she announces her proposal and impending departure to pursue a life of wedded happiness (“I’m a Big Brass Band”, “I Love to Cry at Weddings”). Once the plot has ben resolved and the lights fade out you hear an announcer state “and she lived Hopefully Ever After”. Yes sir, that is the takeaway that one can get from watching this performance.

Sandy Richen Cohrs’ choreography was pretty good. She had a great sense of what space she was able to utilize on stage and had her dancers stick pretty close to the marks, although there were times during the numbers that it seemed to be too crowded. On the flip side, there were some scenes where some background dancing or mirroring could have been effective, such as some of Ms. Tanselle’s solo dances. This is not to say that Ms. Tanselle did not do a good job, she was quite nimble on her feet, I just think it would have added a bit more impact to the scene.

For the most part Gary Tipton’s direction was perfect for the space, although some scenes seemed to drag a little. And while I didn’t really care for the accompaniment that sounded like it was being performed on a handheld Casio keyboard from the 1990’s, it actually served its purpose well enough.

Acting throughout the show was actually quite consistent. Ms. Platt’s Helene and Ms. Leigh’s Nickie were just the right amount of pluck and straight shooters for the story, while Ms. Polinske’s Ursula was convincing as Vittori’s jealous girlfriend. Richard Ray was fine as Herman, the curmudgeonly owner of the Fandango and his “I Love to Cry at Weddings” was delightful. While Rob Leffler played Charlie with smarmy confidence, he glowed as Vittorio and showed off some pretty good singing, too. Derrick Palmer as Daddy Brubeck brought down the house with “Rhythm of Life”.

Tim Moss’ Oscar was equal parts cute and shy. While maybe not the strongest singer in the company, he had some great quality to his timbre. His portrayal of Oscar had me hoping that the script was going to get flipped this time for a better ending.

Jessica Tanselle encompassed everything that Charity is written to be: confident, bubbly, giving, hopeful and entertaining. She absolutely embraced and ran with the role.

Before the proverbial curtain rose on this production, it was announced that, after 20 years of producing theater in and around Louisville, Sweet Charity would be the last offering from theAs Yet Unnamed Theater.

What a fitting production to end on: a show about having a lot of heart and hopefulness… just like the AYUTC. Best wishes to each and every one of you who have worked with this group.

Bravi Tutti!!

Sweet Charity

April 7, 8, 14, 15, @ 8:00 p.m.
April 9, @ 2:30 p.m. & April 16, @ 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $18.00. For reservations contact the KCA Box Office at 584-7777.

As Yet Unnamed Theatre Company
Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts
501 West Main Street
Louisville, KY 40202

For more information, please contact Sandy Richens Cohrs at (502) 445-3203 or email at ayutc@aol.com; facebook.com/AYUTC .

 

AnnetteAnnette Skaggs is heavily involved as an Arts Advocate here in Louisville. She is a freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe and in St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career, she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York City Opera, and Northwestern University. Her knowledge and expertise have developed over the course of 25+ years’ experience in the classical arts.






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