When it came time to take my seat in an almost sold-out Byre Theatre, my expectations had risen to an all-time high. Between large amounts of online advertising as well as a themed social, the stage was set (pun unfortunately intended) for Sweet Charity to be Just So Society’s biggest and most entertaining production in recent memory. Unfortunately, the enormous hype is only partially to be believed, as the many incredibly successful factors are consistently pitted against an almost equal number of disappointing flaws.
Sweet Charity, the quintessential musical-comedy from the minds of Broadway royalty Cy Coleman, Neil Simon, and Bob Fosse, revolves around a young “dance hall hostess” named Charity Hope Valentine and her quest for love. For the show to even remotely work as intended, the audience must collectively adore, sympathise with, root for, and laugh with Charity as she somewhat ineptly searches for her soulmate in 1960’s New York City. Thankfully, this production’s Charity, Ella-Rose Nevill, is triumphant in almost every aspect of the word. Nevill deftly balances a persona of equal parts unbridled enthusiasm, concerning naivety, sultry sensuality, and – as her character’s name suggests – unadulterated and unflinching hope. She adds to this with a smokey-rich alto, effortlessly crooning a wide variety of solos. She does, however, seem slightly uncertain and tentative during some of her dance-heavy scenes, but she is still able to sell her character with a dazzlingly wide smile.
Other standouts include the dynamic duo of Helene and Nickie, here embodied with large doses of sass and sarcasm by Liliana Potter and Rachel Munro. Their scene-stealing chemistry in numbers like “Baby, Dream Your Dream” help elevate otherwise incredibly mundane scenes. Coggin Galbreath, playing the debonaire Italian film star Vittoro Vidal, also nails his performance, with a hilariously ridiculous accent and solid vocals. Additionally, each member in the large ensemble finds moments to shine without taking away from the story or songs. Also, special recognition should be awarded to Head of Set Caelan Mitchell-Bennet, as the dark Manhattan skyline truly grounds the scenes firmly in the Big Apple.
Regrettably, there are a number of aspects of this production that failed to hit the mark. Sweet Charity has always been renown for its fabulous, uniquely Fosse choreography and infectiously energetic dance numbers. Here, they don’t quite live up to that legendary status, as many of the dancers seem nervous or self-conscious. It is evident that many of them do not have formal dance training, which is not helped by occasionally-awkward choreography. The director, Hannah Lawson, does an admirable job with the rest of the show, so potentially teaming up with a dedicated choreographer rather than wearing both hats might have helped tighten up some of the larger ensemble numbers. While the entire cast sports strong vocals, the band routinely drowns out soloists. This, coupled with the microphone issues that plague many of the leads, means that key lyrics can be incredibly difficult to hear. In addition, the later scenes with Charity and her suitor turned potential husband Oscar, played here with a winningly neurotic attitude by Linus Erbach, prove to be tonally inconsistent. Both actors ably hit the comedic beats, but lack the romantic chemistry to make the central relationship believable.
Despite some shaky dancing and sound-related technical issues, Sweet Charity remains for the most part a thoroughly “sweet” production, with enough powerful vocals and light-hearted punchlines to provide escape and entertainment to even the most academically stressed St Andreans.