The Theatreguide.London Review
Menier Chocolate Factory Winter 2009-2010; Haymarket Theatre Summer-Autumn 2010
Sweet Charity may not be the greatest musical ever written. But it is a big, brassy, tune-filled, fun-filled romp - a fine representative of Broadway at its pop culture best.
The Menier may not be the biggest or best-financed theatre in London. But every winter they manage to put on a musical with style, imagination and energy that others can only wonder at.
Put them together and you have another Menier musical hit, and as perfect an example as you will find anywhere of the proverbial Good Night Out.
The 1966 musical has a book by Neil Simon based on an outline by director Bob Fosse ultimately inspired by a Fellini film, with music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields.
While 'Hey Big Spender' (who can forget the brassy opening vamp?) and 'If My Friends Could See Me Now' are the best-known songs, there really isn't a dud in the bunch, and several of them were the occasion for some of Bob Fosse's best choreography.
Playing the title character, a dance hall Pollyanna addicted to falling in love, is Tamzin Outhwaite. Probably best known as a TV soap actress, Outhwaite has done musicals before, and is a revelation here.
Rarely off the stage, she captures all the gamin cuteness of the character without ever becoming saccharine, and you might as well fall in love with her when she first appears, and save time.
She acts delightfully, sings well, dances more than adequately and twinkles irresistibly - everything you want in a musical heroine.
Director Matthew White has cast one actor, Mark Umbers, as all the men in Charity's life, and Umbers has infectious fun as, sequentially, a cad, an Italian movie star and a bumbling nerd - each a caricature but just real enough to be believable and even sympathetic.
There's also nice support from Josefina Gabrielle and Tiffany Graves as Charity's more cynical workmates and by a hard-working, multiple-role-playing, never-flagging and very talented chorus.
But this was always a dance-driven show, and it is in Stephen Mear's choreography that the show really hits its heights.
Cleverly and rather sweetly, Mear begins several numbers - the iconic 'Hey Big Spender,' 'If They Could See Me Now' and the Rich Man's Frug - by quoting or alluding to Bob Fosse's style as a kind of homage before moving into his own vocabulary and making the dances very much his own.
His dances are clever, witty and high-energy, and at least as good as Fosse's originals - the Frug and 'Rhythm of Life' may even be better (and that's a statement I never thought I'd make).
Sweet Charity will undoubtedly follow the trail of the Menier's last several musicals and transfer to the West End. But why deprive yourself of the pleasure that long?
Besides, part of the fun is seeing how cleverly director, choreographer and designers have fit the show onto the small and challenging Menier stage.
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