Your friends should see this now
By Bradley Storer
Luckiest Productions’ Sweet Charity has made its way to Melbourne after successful sell-out seasons in Sydney and Canberra. This Helpmann Award-winning production more than lives up to expectations with a dark revisionist exploration of this Broadway classic.
Verity Hunter-Ballad in the title role of Charity Hope Valentine brings a refreshing touch of normality and relatability. The audience is always aware, beneath the zany and perky exterior, of the real flesh and blood human that Charity is. She also dances up a storm and brings exquisite vocal mastery to all of Charity’s songs, unleashing a full-throttle and soul-rending performance in the despairing ‘Where Am I Going?’. Martin Crewes shows surprising versatility as the various men in Charity’s life – at first showing seductive charm and gallantry as the charismatic Italian movie star Vittorio Vidal, then later morphing into the neurotic but lovable Oscar Lindquist, with a similar vocal transformation from operatic tenor to contemporary character singing.
The bare-bones production, under the direction of Dean Bryant, is unafraid to show the darkness that lurks beneath the surface of this seemingly comedic musical. The female ensemble are depicted closer to the prostitutes of Fellini’s original film than the taxi dancers of the Broadway musical, stuck in an eternal cycle of degradation and poverty that they’ve given up on escaping – most touchingly rendered in Nickie (Debora Krizak) and Helene (Kate Cole)’s by turns cynical and hopeful duet ‘Baby, Dream Your Dream’. Even Charity’s Act One comedic tour de force, ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’, is performed in a single light surrounded by darkness, as if suggesting the continual threat of the despair kept at bay by Charity’s hopefulness and optimism.
Cy Coleman’s classic Broadway score and Bob Fosse’s signature choreography are both thrillingly modified here to service the new production – new arrangements of music bring in such contemporary sounds as electric guitar, drums and synthesizer that drastically shift the feel of Coleman’s music to the modern. The famous ‘Hey Big Spender’ becomes less of a brassy Broadway belter and more like the guttural, dirty rock music of a strip club in the early hours. The ‘Rich Man’s Frug’ is transformed through the wonderfully imaginative choreography of Andrew Hallsworth into an angular and frenetic vision of a hideously modern New York party, and the psychedelic hippy celebration of ‘The Rhythm of Life’ into a rock-gospel revivalist meeting that sees most of the cast naked by the end.
The most drastic change is the very last scene, stripping away any pretensions to Broadway brightness with Hunter-Ballad’s achingly vulnerable and raw performance and an ending so shocking and unexpected that it leaves the audience dumb-founded. Such a dark and revelatory vision of a classic Broadway musical make this production of Sweet Charity a must see!
Venue: The Playhouse, Arts Centre, 100 St Kilda Rd, Melbourne.
Dates: 25th February – 7th March
Times: Wednesday – Saturday 8pm, Tuesday 7pm, Matinees: Thursday 26 February, 1pm, Saturday 28 February, 2pm, Sunday 1 March, 3pm, Saturday 7 March, 2pm
Tickets: Tickets from $79.90, Under 30s concession pricing $30
Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au, 1300 182 183, at the box office.
Image by Jeff Busby