Sweet Charity

Production: Sweet Charity
Venue: Central Hall
Rating: * * * *

After the applause died down for Michael Slater’s production of Sweet Charity, I could hear people asking: “Why have I not heard of this musical before?”
It was easy to see why. This production of a relatively unknown musical about a dancehall-girl’s search for love was bursting at the seams with an infectious energy.

Gavin Whitworth’s expert musical direction delivered all that it promised. Under his direction, the band delivered a dark but jazzy soundtrack that amply filled the massive hall. Their music merged seamlessly with the complex and ambitious choreography of Sarah Betteridge to create a show that both sounded and looked extremely professional. Slater’s direction managed to take the idiosyncrasies of the script on board – including the bizarre silent-movie style announcement projections – and add enough polish and ad-lib flourishes of his own to make the production unique without transgressing against its spirit.

This is a musical with a deeply sexual core. Charity’s squeaky-clean cutesy demeanour is set almost ridiculously against the gritty reality of her profession. The hyper-competitive, hyper-sexual ‘Big Spender’ girls, the cynical dancehall host Herman, excellently played by Sean Chapman, and the uncomfortably perverted ‘regulars’ all prophesy the failure of Charity’s naïve dreams of happiness.

Charlotte Ward-Caddle and Victoria Jones were excellent as Charity’s two sassy best friends. Jones’s impressive vocal prowess is well known from her starring role in last year’s West Side Story, and Ward-Caddle holds her own very well beside her.

The leads Alice Boagey and Jethro Compton had great chemistry both in song and in dialogue. They played hilariously off each other, and the scene in which they are trapped in a lift had the audience in stiches. Boagey was perfect for Charity, saccharine-sweet and possessed of a captivating naiveté, and Compton’s nervous, neurotic but good-hearted Oscar was a refreshing counterpoint in a musical full of very empowered, sassy characters.

However competent the two leads, the show was stolen comprehensively by the two supporting male parts. Tom Rogers was perfect as a silent-films era Italian movie star, achieving heights of physical comedy with little touches like his complicated signature set-piece. His accent was excellent, and he gave the character a depth of emotion that went far beyond what the script proscribes.

But best of all was Ian McCluskey as the para-religious ‘preacher’ Daddy Brubeck. He infused an already spectacular ensemble performance of ‘The Rhythm of Life’ with a quasi-messianic energy that was all his own. It was very clear that everyone in that scene was enjoying themselves immensely, and the audience found it impossible to resist responding in kind. Ben Rackstraw and Michael Hailes deserve special mention for their comic timing and backing vocals as his assistants.

The abruptness of the ending was deeply shocking to an audience expecting happy-ever-afters all round. That we felt Charity’s disappointment so keenly was a testament to how invested we all were in the story. A stunning success for Slater and the whole of the ?Central Hall Musical Society.

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