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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Sweet Charity
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 fifty years.

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.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Sweet Charity - Donmar Warehouse Theatre 2019