“SWEET CHARITY,” through May 24, Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East, $38-$64, running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes with one intermission (801-581-6961 or pioneertheatre.org)
“Sweet Charity” is a musical that does not get produced often. Debuting on Broadway in the mid-1960s, it was created to be a vehicle for the incomparable performer Gwen Verdon, wife of legendary choreographer Bob Fosse. It garnered nine Tony Award nominations and won the Best Choreography Tony for Fosse’s work.
The musical is about as frothy as musical theater gets — and that's not a bad thing. “Sweet Charity” is set in the mid-1960s and tells the story of Charity Hope Valentine, a spunky dance hall hostess with an unwavering, optimistic view on love, despite the ridicule of her fellow dance hall girls and her many setbacks in love’s name.
It’s essentially a chick flick on stage. But the writing is witty (thank you, Neil Simon) and the songs are catchy (thank you, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields). And the production that just opened at Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre is pretty solid.
First of all, director Karen Azenberg put together a great cast headlined by New York-based actress Nancy Lemenager in the role of Charity. Lemenager was recently at Pioneer Theatre Company performing the lead in “Other Desert Cities,” but her skills are wonderfully suited to the comic, warm escapades of Charity. Her rendition of “If My Friends Could See Me Now” is a standout — great presence and singing with ebullient dancing. Lemenager also has that likability that is necessary but so often difficult to create for a character like Charity.
The best scenes in the production are those shared between Lemenager and her co-star, John Scherer. Scherer’s portrayal of the not-so-lucky-in-anything, anxious, tender-hearted Oscar is a nice contrast to Charity’s confidence. The two play off each other nicely, bringing Simon’s witty repartee to life.
The dancing in “Sweet Charity” should almost serve as a third prominent player in the musical. It should leap off the stage with a sultry, hip swagger. The ensemble numbers in this production hadn’t quite reached that point as of Saturday night. The numbers were fine, but they didn’t sizzle, and “I’m a Brass Band” was almost a little sloppy.
PTC’s use of live musicians is always to be commended. It’s also fun to see the ’60s come to life in Technicolor through Patrick Holt’s costume designs, Amanda French’s wigs and George Maxwell’s sets.
“Sweet Charity” is a pretty, fun and lighthearted night out and could be a great way to bounce or even sashay right into summer.
Content advisory: Mild language, implied sexual content and dress and behavior befitting the dance hall setting.
Erica Hansen was the theater editor at the Deseret News for more than three years. An area performer, she was also the original host of the radio program “Showtune Saturday Night.”