How Sweet it is! No, really it is!
The musical comedy Sweet Charity opened this weekend at the Little Theatre of Norfolk…a day late due to Dorian running its course through the area. While Dorian may have pushed opening night back a day, this dance-centric presentation was in (almost) every way performance ready.
When headed to take in a show with the name “Bob Fosse” attached, a theatre-goer can assume that the exquisitely designed choreography and performing artists will create a dazzling spectacle. This is undoubtedly the case in regards to director Hope Miller’s solid interpretation of Neil Simon’s 1966 Broadway classic.
Director/choreographer Miller and co-choreographer Amy Harbin present a quality musical featuring local performing artists who have brought their talent and passion to the Little Theater of Norfolk stage for this production.
While the entire ensemble is remarkable, throughout the show a few featured dancers took the spotlight; two who stood out were Tré Porchia and Erin Matteson. Miller and Harbin made excellent choices when casting this entire show; every actor brings a state of perfection to his or her character.
The titular character, Charity Hope Valentine (a name that screams optimism) is played by actress Moriah Hancock. Ms. Hancock embodies the charisma that Charity represents. The energy, expressions, comedic timing, vocal prowess, and charm she brings to the character creates an enchanting performance that is a treat to behold. Charity isn’t alone in this whimsical world of 1966. Her two cynical best friends, Nickie and Helene, played by Kathryn Sinclair-Fenter and Jennifer Kelly-Cooper respectively, provide Charity with all the tough love and support she could ever need. The two numbers performed by Sinclair-Fenter and Kelly-Cooper showcasing their powerhouse voices were among my favorites of the evening. John Cauthen lends his great talent and voice to the role of Vittorio Vidal, a refined international movie star struggling with affairs of the heart, as he tries to win back his lover, Ursula, expertly played by Victoria Grace Triplett. Though these two only appear in what feels like a small fraction of the show, Cauthen and Triplett easily win the audience over as they work out their romantic matters. Stefan Sharak portrays the overtly nervous yet gentle and sensitive Oscar Lindquist opposite of Hancock’s Charity Valentine. I found Sharak’s performance to be particularly endearing; I believe this young actor has a robust, natural talent for performing in addition to an incredible singing voice (which could easily be heard from the back when his mic cut out!) I hope to see him on stage again in the future. Rashad Stukes takes the stage as Daddy Brubeck, the smooth and groovy leader of a jazz-group-gone-religious. David Sinclair, playing the sleazy club owner Herman, wins a well-deserved moment in the spotlight near the end of the show. These two aforementioned actors are impressive and give indelible performances during their show-stopping musical numbers.
The expertise of the director choreographers, and performers and their commitment and time spent rehearsing this musical is best reflected the iconic numbers “Rich Man’s Frug” and “Big Spender.” These numbers were the absolute highlight of the show.
Miller’s vision is clear and the show is cohesive, but a few details were perplexing. Throughout the show, title cards held by actors are used in various scenes. Some indicated a passage of time and/or the changing of location, yet with no logical changes in said circumstances. Some of these noted signs are clearly used to elicit laughter and to caption dance titles or song lyrics. While this is a creative idea, the props felt more like an afterthought with no solid purpose. They felt very tacked on, unnecessary and with no continuity. For example: some signs were larger than others, some are hard to read, and some of them appear to display art styles from decades past the sixties (one of them is a clear reference to Spongebob Squarepants, a show that did not air until the 90’s). Many of the signs disappeared faster than I could read them, so I felt they were a distraction to my full immersion into the performance. Another oddity was a reference to hurricane Dorian made during the show. While this extracted a huge laugh from the audience, it seemed incredibly forced and inappropriate. Cardboard props and misplaced storm references don’t outweigh the overall performance, but the show did not need the unintended distractions.
Sometimes less really is more. With an abundance of performers on stage, difficulties can arise when space is limited. However, this is not an obstacle for the cast of Sweet Charity. In fact, the talented actors gave the illusion of limitless space to perform. Sweet Charity makes the most of a handful of set pieces that shift roles throughout the show, rather than one large set. A rolling closet one moment seamlessly transitions into an elevator in the next and into a phone booth to complete its set piece “destiny”. Hats off to Elizabeth Hall for one of the most creative-yet economical- uses of the LTN space I’ve seen; one reveal in the first act made me whisper “WOW” to myself.
Alicia Wolters provides a pleasant, effective, and fun lighting design. As for sound, none of the effects were too loud or too quiet, however there were a handful of moments where microphones cut in and out (sometimes when actors were chatting offstage) and some solo voices were lost when performers were too far upstage. These small issues may have just been opening weekend kinks or jitters that had yet to be worked out. Had there been an IDR (Invited Dress Rehearsal) which was canceled due to the hurricane, these subtle nuisances might have been worked out previously.
The vocal casting and direction for Sweet Charity was spot-on. Kudos to music director Lisa Lowry for both music directing AND conducting the show. There were, however, various times during the production when the band seemed out of sync with the stage performers, causing the actors to give worried, panicked looks as they tried to get back on track. Once again, most likely due to opening night issues that will certainly resolve during the full run of the show.
Last but certainly not least, the costumer(s) and wig designer deserve an award for a fantastic job of capturing the look of the 60’s while allowing for the dancers to be able to move freely (this isn’t always easy)!
Local theater lovers if you wanna have fun, fun, fun…. spennnnnd a little time with Sweet Charity at Little Theater of Norfolk.
Sweet Charity runs at the Little Theatre of Norfolk through the end of September. You can purchase tickets here.