Ciara Munnelly reviews the Just So Society's performance of Sweet Charity at the Byre Theatre.
I always look forward to the Just So Byre offering, and this year did not disappoint. Sweet Charity is one of those musicals where the songs just stick, and it definitely fits the genre of a comédie musicale (as the French call it) with lots of belly laughter moments.
The show tells the story of Charity, a taxi dancer at the Fandango ballroom in New York who always picks the wrong guys, none more so than her latest boyfriend Charlie who pushes her into a lake to steal her dowry.
By chance, Charity runs into the famous movie star Vittorio Vidal outside Club Pompeii, who after being rejected by his mistress Ursula, invites Charity to spend the evening with him. After fainting, she is brought back to his apartment where she asks the celebrity for a signed photo and is also gifted with a few of Vittorio’s props from the movie. He then rekindles his romance with Ursula, with Charity in the next room.
After discussing the prospect of leaving the ballroom with fellow dancers Nickie and Helene, Charity seeks out some cultural enlightenment at the YMHA where she becomes trapped in an elevator with the very anxious character that is Oscar.
And that is only Act One.
There is so much that happens in one act that by the time the interval came round, I felt like I had already sat through a full show. Much more happens in the second act, the relationship with Charity and Oscar develops and she becomes his “Sweet Charity”, she finally leaves the Fandango, becomes engaged and is pushed into the lake once again.
The storyline is complicated but a great one nonetheless.
There are three big numbers that I didn’t even realise came from the show: “Big Spender”, “If they could see me now” and ‘The Rhythm of Life”. And I loved them all. The overall vocal talent was impressive, and it was easy to see the success of the casting in a number of the main characters. Some of the lesser known songs ended up becoming my favourite and I think that that is, in part, due to the amazing vocals of Rachel Munro, who perfectly embodied Nickie. Her range was unparalleled. The harmonies were also well executed and made the duets / trios a delight to listen to.
Coming from a musical theatre background myself, I love that the team are able to have a band at their disposal. Everything just feels so much more real when you add all the live instruments. Although, being the first night, there were some teething issues, the band did a good job of providing some much-needed jazzy feels to the show.
The choreography of this show was stunning. Hanna, the Director and Choreographer, had a hard job in reproducing the extremely famous Fosse choreography and her ideas were strong. At times, it seemed that the execution was not always achieved, and this was a bit clearer in the larger ensemble numbers where the ambitious choreography appeared to get the better of certain members of the cast.
The characterisation was what really stole the show for me. It’s not often that I remember characters upon leaving a musical but there was something special about these portrayals that stuck with me. Coggin Galbreath was hilarious and endearing as film star Vittorio Vidal, Linus Erbach perfectly embodied the highly anxious Oscar and Liliana Potter was great as the realist, guffawing Helene. But a huge credit must go to Ella Rose-Nevill who played a beautifully adorable, bumbling Charity Hope Valentine. It is rare for me to sympathise with the hero/heroine in a musical, but it was impossible not to fall for Charity’s innocence and optimism in every scene of the show.
You could see the immense levels of dedication that every cast and crew member had to make the show a success and I would say they should be proud of what they achieved. Despite issues with set and tech, the glitzy costumes and smiling faces produced a night that allowed me to escape the pressure of final year deadlines for a couple of hours and see a show which I knew very little about. Congratulations to all the team for such a good performance and reigniting The Rhythm of Life on such a dull and dreary November evening.