Sweet Charity

Book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Field
Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company
Nottingham Playhouse

Rebecca Trehearn as Charity Hope Valentine Credit: Darren Bell
Back Row: Emmanuelle N’Zuzi (Frenchy), Sinéad Long (Rosie), Leah West (Ursula). Front row: Cindy Belliot (Carmen), Carly Mercedes Dyer (Helene), Emily Goodenough (Suzanne), Amy Ellen Richardson (Nickie) and Jessica Buckby (Elaine) Credit: Darren Bell
Rebecca Trehearn (Charity) and Marc Elliott (Oscar Lindquist) Credit: Darren Bell

It’s the first musical Nottingham Playhouse has produced since 2006—and it was well worth the wait.

Adam Penford has been stamping his own style on the artistic programme since taking over as artistic director just over a year ago. The theatre’s latest offering shows another departure from the type of production favoured by his predecessor.

Sweet Charity may not be everyone’s idea of the perfect show to lure musical theatre fans to the Playhouse but it works on several levels.

Not only is it written by the incomparable Neil Simon, it has a simple yet tender story, seductive choreography and memorable tunes. These include “Big Spender”—which emits a more sensual vibe when performed by an ensemble rather than belted out by Shirley Bassey—and “If They Could See Me Now”.

But Sweet Charity could not succeed without a strong personality in the lead role which demands someone who can act, sing and dance in equal measure. The Playhouse was able to call on Rebecca Trehearn to play Charity Hope Valentine; they could hardly have made a better choice.

The 2017 Olivier Award-winner for best supporting actress in a musical as Julie in Show Boat, a Sheffield Theatres and New London Theatre production, she gives an enthralling performance. Hardly off the stage during the two-and-a-half hours of the show, she sparkles throughout, her energy, enthusiasm and élan being absolutely compelling.

Sweet Charity is the story of a caring, selfless young woman who is a dancehall hostess in a seedy bar in New York City. She has a habit of falling in love with the wrong men, the first of whom steals her handbag and pushes her into a lake.

A chance meeting with film star Vittorio Vidal, played excellently by Jeremy Secomb, gives her hope that her life is changing for the better. But when Vidal gets back with his mistress, Charity is down on her luck again.

It’s only after Charity gets stuck in a lift with geeky, claustrophobic Oscar Lindquist—a clever, convincing display by Marc Elliott—that she finally finds true love. But even then the relationship is destined to have an unfortunate, sorrowful ending.

Sweet Charity has big, bold, brassy numbers but also a series of cameos with characters who appear briefly; some of them are seen only once. Director Bill Buckhurst’s 15-strong cast effervescently throw themselves into the show, none more so than Amy Ellen Richardson and Carly Mercedes Dyer as Charity’s fellow dancers Nickie and Helene.

Shaq Taylor looks to be enjoying enormously the role of Daddy Brubeck, the enigmatic leader of the Rhythm for Life Church, and Carl Sanderson revels in the spotlight when he becomes Herman, the demanding yet ultimately kind-hearted nightclub boss.

Alistair David does a terrific job with the choreography, adding a modern touch to Bob Fosse’s trademark mixture of glamour and seediness which epitomised the original Broadway show.

Add a ten-strong band who bring out all the sassiness of Cy Coleman’s music and you have a tremendous show from start to finish.

Sweet Charity isn’t a perfect show: parts of it seem contrived, particularly the scene in Vidal’s apartment when he finds excuses to nip out for first a hat and then a cane so that Charity can elaborate her “If They Could See Me Now” routine. But this Nottingham Playhouse production is magnificent, with a lead performance to match.

Let’s hope it’s not another 12 years before the theatre stages another musical.

Reviewer: Steve Orme

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