Sweet Charity

Book by Neil Simon, Music by Cy Coleman, Lyrics by Dorothy Field

Menier Chocolate Factory

(2009)

Review by Philip Fisher

The Menier hit machine rolls on. Ever since Sunday in the Park with George, their musicals, which also include La Cage Aux Folles and Little Shop of Horrors from this production's director, have sold out and moved on to popularity in the West End and even on Broadway, where A Little Night Music is about to open.

There should be no doubt that Sweet Charity, a star vehicle for Tamsin Outhwaite as it was for Shirley MacLaine on celluloid, will follow suit.

Matthew White proves himself to be a star director, adding numerous witty flourishes to the catchy tunes and Stephen Mear's sensational choreography, modelled on the master of the form, Bob Fosse's original.

Neil Simon's book, based on Fellini's movie Le Notti di Cabiria, follows Charity Hope Valentine's tireless efforts to net a man and is supported by Dorothy Fields' perceptive lyrics.

Miss Outhwaite's character is a good-natured New Yorker employed as a "social consultant" or in commoner parlance "dance hall hostess" or in commonest parlance "good time girl", though in her case stops short of that last appellation.

For 2¾ hours the Sweet blonde dances and dreams through 1967 Manhattan, running swiftly through a team of prospective husbands from Italian film star to nervy nerd, all played by the honey-voiced Mark Umbers.

The plot is only a small part of this evening's manifold pleasures. The star gives her all, showing great comic talents and serious talent as a dancer to complement a passable, if not top-drawer voice.

In scene after scene, White brings out the comedy, seen at its best in a bedroom as Charity spends a night shadowing her actor's reconciliation with his love from his diaphanous wardrobe.

Repeatedly, the choreography takes the breath away (of audience members as well as energetic dancers) with the highlight delivered by the unforgettable Ebony Molina to "The Rich Man's Frug".

In addition to the comedy and dance, Sweet Charity features a string of hummable popular classics including "Big Spender", "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and "Rhythm of Life".

The last of these is revivified in a hippie version led by the mop-headed Paul J. Medford that could easily make its way into next spring's revival of Hair.

Led by Tamsin Outhwaite who perfectly catches Charity's kooky vulnerability, the cast excels. Add in some sizzlingly sexy costumes courtesy of Matthew Wright and you have a musical delight that should still be around at some theatre or other for next Christmas.

Phikip also reviewed this production on its transfer to the Theatre Royal, Haymarket