By David L. MUNNELL
New Castle, Pa.
“Sweet Charity” is a musical hit from the swinging ’60s that served as a vehicle for Broadway legend Gwen Verdon with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and book by Neil Simon. If anyone is a fan of shows such as “The Odd Couple” or “Biloxi Blues,” then the sitcom-esque style of the show should be appealing.
It follows the exploits of a dance hall hostess, Charity Hope Valentine, played by Julia Garda, who’s looking for love in the big city. First, with a guy named Charlie, played briefly by Stephen Perrott, then with Vittorio Vital, played by Robert S. Hazen, and finally with Oscar, played by Matthew DiBattiste. Honestly, the script is about as trippy as a syphilitic fever dream laced with everything from hippies to hipsters and everything in between. But it’s enjoyable fun since the music is that great go-go style of dance music reminiscent of the time period.
The set design for this production is awesome. The slightly skewed proscenium allows for that quirky, slightly off-balanced vibe that’s exuded by the world of “Sweet Charity.” Unfortunately, the lighting is so bad that half the time, the actors are in the dark or the spotlight operators just can’t quite seem to figure out whom the light is supposed to shine on.
That’s pretty much the dichotomy I felt while watching this production. On the one hand, audiences will enjoy the performances — especially by the ensemble and incidental characters — as the dancing is fantastic to watch. On the other hand, the entire staging and choreography is a blatant rip-off of the 1969 movie starring Shirley Maclaine. Because of this, I refuse to give any credit to the director or the choreographer.
And this is unfortunate because there are some great performances to be had — specifically by DiBattiste as the neurotic Oscar, Mariah Fornataro as Helene and Kelsey Wilson as Nickie, Charity’s friends at the dance hall. However, because the integrity of the show has been compromised, I can’t accurately say whether these were good performances or rehashes of already established actors.
I guess what I’m trying to write is:
To the New Castle Playhouse, DO YOUR OWN WORK. You are better than this. And to theatergoers in the area: You’re better than this level of pandering. If you want a night of live theater, then see one of the many other productions that have actually worked to make something original. If you’re still truly intent on seeing “Sweet Charity” I recommend just renting the movie because it’s pretty much the same thing only with Sammy Davis Jr.
Again, there is nothing bad about this show, but I cannot give my approval to something that is so lacking in artistic integrity. I also refuse to adhere to the school of thought that it’s “just community theatre.” The actors/directors/artists of this area are more talented than this level of unprofessionalism and should seek to elevate their standards.
“Sweet Charity” runs on the New Castle Playhouse main stage at 2 p.m. today, July 21 and 28 and at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and July 26 and 27. For tickets or more information, call 724-654-3437.