Saturday, July 28, 2007


MaryAnn Black and Eric van Baars delight in ‘SWEET CHARITY’ at Porthouse

‘SWEET CHARITY, now on stage at Porthouse Theatre, is noted as a dancer’s show. In order for a production to be successful it must have a star who is not only a prima dancer, but can sing well, act proficiently, and has a personality that sparkles.

There seems to be no question that the venue’s Artistic Director, Terri Kent, who also serves as director of the show, chose the script because she had the very talented MaryAnn Black available. Black, who has become the darling of Porthouse patrons, is the quintessential Charity. She is in the mold of Gwen Verdon, who starred in the original 1966 production, Shirley MacLaine who was in the 1969 movie, and Debbie Allen who was in the show’s 1986 Broadway revival.

‘SWEET CHARITY,’ based on Federico Fellini's screenplay for “NIGHTS OF CABRIA,” has music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and book by Neil Simon.

The plot centers on Charity Hope Valentine, a dance hall hostess. She longs to settle down, but the men in her life simply love her, use her and leave her. One steals her purse and throws her in a lake; another, a movie star who is trying to get back at his girlfriend, takes Charity to his apartment, but shoves her under a bed when his girlfriend appears. Finally, she is trapped in an elevator with Oscar, a neurotic who eventually seems to be the man she has waited for. But... (Okay, the plot isn’t great, but I’m not going to ruin it by telling you how the whole thing turns out.)

The show’s excellent score includes “You Should See Yourself,” “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This,” “The Rhythm of Life,” and “Where Am I Going?”

The Porthouse production is very entertaining. Though the script is dated, many of the cast are way too young and lack the necessary sleezy edge to be playing their roles, and the orchestra on opening night kept hitting musical clinkers, Black and Eric van Baars, as Oscar, Charity’s obsessive boy friend, make the negatives fade away.

Though she has matured to the place where doing all that singing and dancing can be draining, Black comes through once again. She lights up the stage. “I’m a Brass Band” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now” are definite show stoppers. The segment in which she gets caught in an elevator with van Baars has to be one of the most delightful scenes seen on a local stage. It’s worth going to the show just to see this ten minute interlude.

van Baars is excellent. He sings and acts well and shows comedic talent that is endearing.

Jim Weaver does a fine vocal job on “Too Many Tomorrows,” and Sandra Emerick and Nicole Perrone add some nice bits as two of Charity’s fellow hostesses.

An added attraction is a cameo appearance by my former student, Roe Green, the patron saint of many of this area’s theatres. This is her first ever on-stage appearance. The casting is type perfect! (You’ll have to see the show in order to understand this reference.)

Some of the show is too slowly paced. “Big Spender,’ usually a dynamic music number dragged. “The Rhythm of Life” was rather blah.

John Crawford’s choreography is generally creative (no, not of the level of Bob Fosse’s original stagings). Unfortunately Crawford was blessed with a dance corps, with the exception of Black, which shows little real dancing talent. This blunts the overall effect.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘SWEET CHARITY’ is the kind of show that, with a good production, is an audience pleaser. From the reaction of the opening night crowd, audiences will enjoy the Porthouse production.