The Theatreguide.London Review
Donmar Warehouse Spring 2019
This revival of the 1966
Broadway hit (music Cy Coleman, lyrics Dorothy Fields) frequently rises to
the level of adequate and occasionally even higher. But it too
infrequently comes fully alive, and is not likely to linger in the memory.
Neil Simon's book is based on
an idea by director-choreographer Bob Fosse to adapt a Federico Fellini
film into American terms, the Italian whore with a heart of gold
domesticated into a romantic dance hall hostess.
The score is a strong one,
with numbers like Hey Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now, The
Rich Man's Frug and I'm A Brass Band that, largely on the memory of Bob
Fosse's staging, have retained status in the Broadway songbook for over
The Donmar Theatre has had
success in the past with such musicals as Company and Pacific Overtures.
But they were essentially
chamber pieces, and Sweet Charity belongs to the big, brassy razzmatazz
Broadway tradition. On the Donmar's small stage what are meant to be big
production numbers look either too sparse or too cramped.
Josie Rourke's production and
Wayne McGregor's choreography bravely try to escape the shadow of Bob
Fosse's iconic originals (Quick – think of the brassy opening vamp of Hey
Big Spender. See Fosse's dancers?).
But they don't seem able to
avoid quoting him visually, most obviously in Hey Big Spender, The Rich
Man's Frug and If My Friends Could See Me Now. And let's face it – Fosse
was the greater choreographer, and the reminders of his imagery just make
the parts that are wholly McGregor's seem paler.
(Here's a gift from me to
you. Go to YouTube and watch the movie version of The Rich Man's Frug.
You'll thank me.)
As Charity Hope Valentine,
the hopeless romantic who retains a core of innocence, this production
stars Anne-Marie Duff, better known as a National Theatre classical
actress (Macbeth, St Joan, etc.).
Duff is an actress-who-sings
rather than a singer, meaning that the voice may not be a show-stopper but
that she finds drama and emotions in the songs that others might miss.
Duff is the first I've seen
to catch and convey just a hint of pathos in Charity's celebration of an
unexpectedly happy twist of fate in If My Friends Could See Me Now, and if
she milks the emotion of Where Am I Going a bit much, at least she doesn't
gloss over it.
Duff is even less a natural
dancer than singer, and you are too often aware of the chorus dancing
around her to disguise the fact that she's not doing much. Through the
distance of time I can still see Gwen Verdon owning the stage in If My
Friends Could See Me Now and I'm A Brass Band, but Duff is hardly
noticeable even while you're watching her.
Martin Marquez is amiable as
Vittorio, the movie star who gives Charity a glimpse of the high life, but
Arthur Darvill is a bit too invisible as the Nice Guy who seems for a
while to offer a happy ending.
A production gimmick has a string of guest stars popping up to play Big Daddy, the jazzy evangelist, and this week Adrian Lester legitimately stops the show by bringing more energy and star power to Rhythm Of Life than is to be found anywhere else in the evening.
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