Camelot Theatre’s Sweet Charity: A Glorious Tuneful Treat For The Ears and Eyes
– by Lee Greene
Sweet Charity was an entertaining, curious, revolutionary, musical when it made its Broadway debut in 1966. Prior to then, successful Broadway musicals (e.g., Oklahoma!, South Pacific, etc.) had typically consisted of a well constructed linear story line arc, using musical lyrics to advance the primary plot, and several associated subplots (romantic, aspirational, etc.) from introduction to exposition to conclusion, like working your way through a well plotted book. The music in those earlier successful Broadway musicals was, by any other description, in the essential form of classical operatic/operetta works – providing star turns for, and requiring, classical, operatic style singers (ala Mario Lanza in South Pacific). But Sweet Charity was a different musical creature all together.
The show was conceived, directed and choreographed by the unrivaled choreographer of his generation, Bob Fosse, and served as a starring vehicle for his dancer/significant other, Gwen Verdon. [Wikipedia, Sweet Charity, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_Charity] Rather than a tight linear story arc, the show consisted of an episodic series of eye-popping, sublimely choreographed scenes, mostly focusing on the central character, dance hall dancer-for-hire, naïve, effervescent, and perpetually upbeat and optimistic Charity Hope Valentine. And the show’s music, instead of utilizing the typical classical forms of earlier musical productions, incorporated tunes much more in the fashion of the pop and dance music of the times (the 1960’s – the coming of age of everything we know of as pop & rock music today). Cy Coleman produced a marvelous body of supremely tuneful, danceable songs for the show, lyricist Dorothy Fields added catchy lyrics, and Broadway magician Neil Simon provided a book to glue it all together. Fosse took the score, lyrics and book and added some of the most extraordinary choreography ever seen on Broadway. The show was well liked by audiences, running for 608 performances. [Id.] But critics didn’t know what to make of it, since it broke the time worn mold for Broadway musicals. It was nominated for 12 (TWELVE!) Tony Awards, but won only one – for Fosse’s choreography. [Id.]
As the Broadway musical has evolved over time, embracing newer musical genres and departing from the classical operatic approach, so has the reception to Sweet Charity. The show has been revived numerous times; the revivals, like the original, are invariably nominated for almost every conceivable award. But the later productions, unlike the original, have had greater success in collecting the prizes. The 1986 Broadway revival won 4 Tony Awards, including Best Revival, Best Performance by a Featured Actor, Best Performance by a Featured Actress and Best Costume Design. The 2005 Broadway revival won actor Denis O’Hare a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, and the 2014 Sydney revival won Helpmann Awards (their equivalent of a Tony) for Best Direction, Best Choreography, and Best Female Actor in a Musical. [Id.]
Now, Camelot Theatre in Talent, OR is presenting the show, starring and co-choreographed by Sarah Gore. And I have to tell you, it’s an absolute, eye-popping, rollicking, tuneful, fun-filled treat. Gore is an irrepressible, indefatigable, effervescent wonder to behold, for the entire duration of this show. She makes the Energizer Bunny seem lethargic and spent, by comparison. I must tell you, this is not the first time Ms. Gore has graced the Camelot stage or choreographed for it or been reviewed by me. A year ago she choreographed and performed a supporting role in Camelot Theatre’s production of Sunset Boulevard. Regarding her choreography for that outing, I wrote:
“The choreography is superb throughout, sustaining much of the energy of the show and moving the story along nicely, when Ms. Desmond isn’t present. Camelot choreographer Sarah Gore deserves high praise for this effort. In the Wilder film, there is an automobile chase sequence where Joe Gibbs attempts to evade a pair of auto repo men, and ends up in Norma Desmond’s Sunset Boulevard palace’s garage. Camelot presents this on stage in a most effective and memorable way, using a wonderfully choreographed dance sequence, with Gibbs and the repo men weaving through cleverly costumed dancers and very creative props representing traffic and road symbols.”
[Jacksonville Review, Star Livia Genise and Camelot Theatre Deliver An Exceptional “Sunset Boulevard”, http://bit.ly/1GnbfIx]
The choreography for this production of Sweet Charity, a collaborative effort between Ms. Gore and castmate, Rebecca Campbell, is sell-your-soul-to-the-devil good, unbelievably better even than the exemplary choreography in Sunset Boulevard. I‘ve got to believe that the long departed Bob Fosse (1927-1987) must be smiling and applauding at this Camelot production from whatever eternal perch he is now observing revivals of his epic, mold-breaking Broadway gem. As my readers are aware, I compulsively take copious notes during theater performances, and my notebook is just filled with praise for the choreography of this production – number after number: Big Spender with Nickie (Rebecca Campbell), Helene (Haley Forsythe) and the Girls of the Ensemble – 8 women in pastel sequined dresses on a dance railing at the front of the stage, really well choreographed, don’t want it to end;
Rich Man’s Frug – women in black dresses and men in black suits performing an exquisitely choreographed full stage ensemble number, featuring an unforgettable, over-the-top turn by featured dancer Shannon Carter; If My Friends Could See Me Now – solo turn by Sarah Gore as Charity – just killer dance moves, bringing Charity to vivid life; Too Many Tomorrows – Ursula (Holly Nienhaus) dancing circles around a near paralyzed Vittorio (David King-Gabriel) provides another supremely choreographed and unforgettable scene; The Rhythm of Life – another eye-popping full stage, ensemble dance number; Baby Dream Your Dream – Nickie (Rebecca Campbell) and Helene (Haley Forsythe) in a well danced and sung duet; I’m A Brass Band – Charity (Gore) and four men in tuxes with gold vests present an unforgettable film-style production dance number; I Love To Cry at Weddings – the whole ensemble again in a well executed, unforgettable, full stage dance scene. Sweet Charity was created as a dancers’ show and the Camelot choreographers and dancers have done it a solid, with top to bottom extraordinary dancing from the opening Charity solo to the curtain dropping ensemble finale.
And I haven’t even gotten to the best parts of this production of Sweet Charity yet. As I said, I’ve written about Sarah Gore’s acting before. For Sunset Boulevard, I wrote:
“Camelot presents an unforgettable young actress in the [Betty Schaefer] role, Sarah Gore (yes, the choreographer). Ms. Gore is energetic, luminous and charismatic, and nearly steals the show, almost every time she steps on stage. She sings, dances, sashays, acts, and delivers the whole package in a performance that must be seen. She’s obviously on an upward trajectory and the sky’s the limit in her stage future.” [Id.]
Guess what folks? The “future” is now!!! Gawd, she makes me look like I’ve got some kind of magical, true fortune-telling crystal ball. Honestly, I cannot imagine another actress doing a better job with the Charity Hope Valentine role. It’s like she was born for this role. Once again Sarah Gore is energetic, charismatic and DOES steal the show just about every time she opens her mouth or takes a dance step. I am hard pressed to find a better way of describing it than I did her previous performance: Sarah Gore sings, dances, sashays, acts, and delivers the whole package in a performance that must be seen. Only this time, she’s front and center in the lead role, with the spotlight on her for most of the show, instead of stealing attention in a supporting role. If the Camelot production offered nothing else noteworthy other than just Sarah Gore as Charity Hope Valentine, that would be well worth the price of a ticket.
But wait! The Camelot production does NOT offer as its only noteworthy element just Sarah Gore as Charity Hope Valentine. Camelot has surrounded Sweet Charity with a gloriously fantastic, talented assemblage of noteworthy and memorable supporting and ensemble players. There are so many outstanding performances in this show, that one hardly knows where to begin. For starters, there’s an unforgettable double portrayal by frequent Camelot player, David King-Gabriel, who plays both famous, well-heeled, fan-adored Italian film star Vittorio Vidal AND enigmatic, hippie leader of the drug and psychedelic music-worshipping Rhythm of Life Church, Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck. During the first act, in slicked down hair, pencil mustache and Italianate white tuxedo King-Gabriel is hilarious as the Italian lothario. He pushes the performance right to the edge of the comedic precipice, teetering precariously without going over the top. I can’t count the number of notable previous stage roles I’ve seen him in, but my notes say this performance as Vidal is his finest ever. And to cap it off, he’s back on stage in the second act, in bell bottoms, beads, “John Lennon” colored glasses, and multi-colored “Dreamcoat” robe in an entirely different, but equally hilarious turn as the charismatic hippie church leader. (Note for the future- in June and July of this year, he’ll be on the Camelot stage AGAIN, in high heels and feathers in La Cage Aux Folles. He’s already practicing in heels at home. That performance has the potential to top even this career highlight. Mark your calendars and don’t miss it!)
There are several supporting actresses that turned in terrific, unforgettable performances. The aforementioned Haley Forsythe (Helene) and Rebecca Campbell (Nickie) play Charity’s dance hall pals, who do a superlative job of singing, dancing, and acting their way through this entire show. A reviewer for another publication approached me to ask, gushingly, “Who was that in the gold sequined dress? She was fantastic!” (Haley Forsythe) And so she was. A newcomer to the Camelot stage, Ms. Forsythe has previously appeared on stage at Oregon Cabaret Theatre, but I am quite confident that her days of anonymity, not being recognized by reviewers are over. Her singing was quite lovely, her dancing was deft, but her acting was best of all. Somebody hurry up and cast that gal in a beefier role, so that talent doesn’t just languish on the sidelines. Another frequent Camelot contributor, Holly Nienhaus, chewed up the scenery in a hilarious turn as Vitorrio Vidal paramour, Ursula. In addition to dancing up a storm, as acknowledged above, she had Vidal wrapped around her little finger, and the audience in stitches in a comedic tour de force. As also previously mentioned, Ensemble member Shannon Carter was simply unforgettable as the finest dancer in this troupe of talented dancers. She not only shined in the Rich Man’s Frug ensemble dance number, but was impossible to ignore when dancing in numerous other numbers as well.
Actress Grace Peets, fresh off a starring role as Laurey Williams in Camelot Theatre‘s Oklahoma! supports the production in a modest role as Rosie, the newest dance hall dancer, and as part of the women’s dance ensemble. But try as she might to disappear into the ensemble, she’s just too good not to notice, and can’t really be ignored (take a good look at the photo on the right – who’s that sparkling in the center, right behind Charity & Vittorio? Ms. Peets of course! Some performers are just too alluring to completely disappear into the background.)
The male cast, in addition to Mr. King-Gabriel, were certainly no slouches either. Newcomer Alex Broyles earned good notices playing Charity’s final doomed love interest in the show, Oscar.
Mr. Broyles successfully held his own on the stage with Ms. Gore in scene after hysterical scene (the elevator, the restaurant, the dance hall, the lake, etc.) – no mean feat, let me tell you. Nor did the women have a monopoly on fantastic dancing. Ensemble member Eoghan Mcdowell tore it up along with Ms. Carter in the Rich Man’s Frug number. Camelot regular Erny Rosales earns a few good laughs for his small but well executed role of Herman, the owner of the Fandango Ballroom dance hall.
As always, the Camelot stagecraft was superlative. The set was well done and incredible scenery pieces (an elevator, the dance hall dressing room, the ritzy entrance to Vittorio Vidal’s doorman apartment building, etc.) moved on and off the stage quickly and seamlessly facilitating smooth continuity between the scenes. The lighting, sound, and video projections were all top notch. The costumes were fantastic and helped sell the roles, the scenes and the dance numbers. And I would be remiss if I neglected to toss an encomium to music director, Karl Iverson, and his musicians. This was after all, a through and through musical, danced from curtain to curtain, and vital to that undertaking was a consistently well done musical performance to facilitate and enable all that dancing and singing. And of course, hats off to Sweet Charity director and Camelot artistic director, Livia Genise, who conceived and planned the production, assembled this amazing cast and crew, and takes ultimate responsibility for the success of this show. Another triumph in a long line of Camelot Theatre triumphs.
If you want to enjoy some terrific tuneful music, unsurpassed choreography and dancing, an incomparable star turn by an effervescent and charismatic ingénue, and a host of additional remarkable entertaining performances, then make it a point to catch a performance of Camelot Theatre’s Sweet Charity, before its run ends, on April 17. Performances of Sweet Charity continue at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Avenue, Talent, Thursday thru Saturday 8:00 pm, Sunday Matinees 2:00 pm. For tickets: order online at http://bit.ly/1EO71aR, or call the box office at 541-535-5250, or in person at 101 Talent Avenue, Talent, Oregon.
All photos (except caricature) by Camelot Theatre photographer, Steve Sutfin.