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Musical with music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and book by Neil Simon. Based on an original screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano.
Charity Hope Valentine, a lovelorn dance hall hostess at the Fan-Dango Ballroom, is in search of one thing - happiness. But the harder she searches the more difficult it seems to find. Why? Because Charity's idea of happiness is a man.....
Songs include 'Big Spender', 'If My Friends Could See Me Now' and 'Rhythm of Life'.
Stars Bonnie Langford as Charity Hope Valentine. She recently played the part for the BBC Radio 2's musicals in concert series. The cast also includes Mark Wynter.
VICTORIA PALACE Theatre previewed 9 May, opened 19 May 1998, closed 15 August 1998
Extracts from the reviews:
"Can you believe it? Bonnie Langford gets down and gets dirty as a dance hall hostess in this rumbustious, sentimental 1966 Broadway musical, a Bob Fosse and Neil Simon classic of Cabaret and Chicago vintage. She plays Charity Hope Valentine, eight years on the job and yearning for romance. What next: Lionel Blair as Macbeth? A cool dude pushes her in a pond. Surely we are not losing Bonnie afterjust one scene? No way. A passing chorus line drags her out and we're off. And in the only Broadway musical Act One finale ever set in an elevator, she meets a nervous tax accountant. Here, the jumpy neurotic Oscar is surprisingly played by a kind and sympathetic black man, Cornell John: he's a bonny chap and a Bonnie winner. En route, the girls tout for business with the Hey Big Spender number, limbs akimbo, mouths agape as they drag butts and torsos over a velvet dance bar. This is the signature Bob Fosse choreography: broken dolls, broken hearts, squeezed buttocks, jutting pelvises and lots of rigid strutting. The style is reasonably well recreated by Chet Walker, and Carol Metcalfe's production maintains both period accuracy and timeless musical theatre naffness with loving dedication. One can never quite get over Bonnie as a screeching infant in Just William [in a British TV series], or as a stage school prodigy. She is technically superb, a real trouper, half a step ahead of everyone else. But the damned want-to-be-liked niceness gets through the scruffiness, and the Shirley MacLaine blonde wig looks like just that. The origins of the show in a Fellini film cause trouble when Charity is inveigled from a nightclub by a fading Mastroianni-style screen star (Mark Wynter). The episode is coarsely played and lacking romance. Bonnie's cuteness becomes her calling card, and she falls back on what she was really setting out to escape. But she dances up a storm in the special number Fosse created for his wife, Gwen Verdon: I Am a Brass Band. And other items such as the floor show in the Pompeii club - Roman decadence in black and white - and the Broadway fugue popularised by Sammy Davis Jr, The Rhythm of Life, all elbows, wrists and snake-like Frisco disco, are alone worth the price of admission." Michael Coveney, The Daily Mail
"In the words of its most famous song, Big Spender, Bob Fosse's 1966 musical offers fun, a few laughs, and a good time. Well, reasonably good, anyway. Sweet Charity is a slender tale of a good-hearted dance-hall hostess who remains optimistic in the face of romantic setbacks - a schmaltzy scenario turned smartly on its head by Cy Coleman's raunchy music, Fosse's sinewy choreography and Neil Simon's wisecracking dialogue. Though less substantial, the show has all the streetwise sass and much of the sauce of Fosse's later triumph, Chicago. Bonnie Langford lacks charisma as the hopeful heroine, but Carol Metcalfe's production surrounds her with the right atmosphere of tongue-in-cheek sleaze. At the Fan-Dango Ballroom, boldly realised by designer Terry Parsons as a red-painted cavern stretching towards the roof and masking the orchestra, a gang of hostesses pivot their hips and bemoan their lot. "Who dances?" One asks their dictatorial boss. "We defend ourselves to music!" When the girls slouch into Big Spender, their sardonic intonation and aggressive steps (Fosse's choreography recreated by Chet Walker) suggest an air of careworn cynicism. Only Charity remains upbeat. Despite being robbed and dumped in a lake by the latest in a series of no-good boyfriends in the first scene, Charity lives in hope. She surfs through a disastrous encounter with ageing Latin matinee idol Vittorio (Mark Wynter, laying on the charm and the accent heavily), bubbling with admiration and gauche platitudes. She gets trapped in a lift with a nice neurotic (smooth, pleasant-voiced Cornell John), and accepts their troubled courtship philosophically. She even emerges from the script's final, cruel reversal of fortune with her non-stick smile intact. Boy, is it ever obvious that this character was created by a man. Bonnie Langford should be a perfect Charity. She can sing and dance. She can do cute. But she can't do sexy, or even quirky. She belts out the showstopper If My Friends Could See Me Now in Vittorio's apartment like a trouper, but her attempts to bed him look unconvincing. She powers through dance routines like a diminutive dynamo, but there's a glazed quality to her chipmunk chirpiness between the big numbers that turns Charity's comic optimism into vacuousness. Worse, the wig designed to make Langford look like Shirley MacLaine actually makes her look uncannily like Coronation Street's Ivy Tilsley. Still, her rendition of If My Friends... stands alongside Big Spender as a blockbuster in a show surprisingly short on truly memorable tunes. The opening number of the second act, The Rhythm of Life, is beautifully sung by Omar F Okai as the hipster priest of a congregation for whom jazz is a religion, but the script is painfully distorted in order to fit it in. It is Simon's one-liners and Fosse's moves that stick in the mind. The shimmying dances to the instrumental Rich Man's Frug are superbly realised by the ensemble, led by Jane Fowler, who also does a nice, snide double-act with Johanne Murdock's acerbic Nicky, matriarch of the taxi-dancers. Carol Metcalfe can do nothing to disguise the thinness of Fosse's plot, so she wisely goes for ambience instead. Her production is full of deft comic touches, as when Langford's Charity innocently checks her appearance in the mirror on Vittorio's ceiling. Terry Parsons's brilliantly economical designs emphasise the mood - stylish, slightly tawdry, louche. Despite the deficiencies of show and production, it's well worth spending a little time in this particular joint." Nick Curtis, London Evening Standard
"When a new girl arrives to work as a "hostess" at the musical snake-pit which is the Fan-dango Ballroom, she's given strictly basic advice. "When they touch you, make like you're excited." Tawdry, and more than slightly bored, this preening gaggle of women line themselves up for the lowlife losers at this self-confessed crummy joint and belt out "Hey, Big Spender". It's the most famous song in one of the most justly famous musicals, and when they sing "I could show you a good time" you really want to believe them. Bruised innocent Charity Valentine (Bonnie Langford), whose middle name is Hope, stands out from all this like a beacon. Her heart is like a hotel as she hurls herself at a string of unsuitable men. She and Nicky (tough Johanne Murdock) and Helene (sardonic Jane Fowler) dream of happiness blasting out the high spirited tarantella "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This". When Charity accidentally finds herself stuck in a lift with nervous Oscar, her dreams suddenly threaten to come to life. Yet this scene illustrates everything that's wrong with Carol Metcalfe's toothless, truthless production. Who knows what the (low) budget was, but it should have run to something more solid than the wobbly, V-shaped, carpeted corner which passes for an elevator. More sharply defined fighting would have helped, but that problem pales in the light of the shoddy undetailed direction. Even claustrophobics in the audience should want to be in there with them, rooting for Charity as romance blossoms between them. Metcalfe, however, finds nothing in this pivotal scene but awkward comedy and despite Cornell John's valiant effort as Oscar, the potential drama slumps below body temperature. Bob Fosse's original choreography has been recreated by Chet Walker and the hard working company are expertly drilled in the knock-kneed stances, the isolated shoulder-shrugs, the insolent, slap-in-the-face stares. It works best in "The Rich Man's Frug", a neurotic shimmy of a nightclub number, with the men sneeringly blowing smoke over the perilously laid-back bodies of the women who slope about in evening gloves to Cy Coleman's deliciously corny sixties' rhythms. Fatally, Metcalfe and Walker seem unable to communicate the secret of Fosse's style, the ability to fill movement with dramatic purpose. Everything's right but at the same time all wrong. Where's the sex, the sleaze, the soul? But what finally stymies everything is the casting. Fosse didn't create this entire show around Gwen Verdon simply because she was his wife. He did it because he knew she could dance everyone else off the stage and play comedy, and make you believe everything the character felt. Verdon may have worked in musical comedy but the woman could seriously act. That's what this show takes. It stands and falls on Charity who is barely ever off-stage. If determination and technique were all, Bonnie Langford would be in clover. Her voice is strong and her dance technique is faultless. Alas, it is also flavourless. Langford doesn't act, she performs. She's so determinedly winning and kooky that all charm disappears. She notates and rotates emotions, but vulnerability is beyond her. Without it, she - and we - are lost. Dorothy Fields' exemplary, character-specific lyrics and Coleman's bonanza of a score still sound sensational, thanks to the tremendous band, and everything suddenly gels in the final two production numbers. In the exuberant "I'm a Brass Band" Charity's electrified with happiness because somebody loves her, and, at last, Langford and the role coincide. In the film, the sudden appearance of zillions of dancers just feels like time for a big production number. Here, it's as if she conjures up the high-stepping dancers through sheer force of will. Quite literally, she's beside herself with joy. But it's way too late." David Benedict, The Independent
"The programme notes speak of Sweet Charity's "hot and sleazy atmosphere", but in the case of this production, that sounds suspiciously like wishful thinking. The Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields songs map out the tale of Charity, a "dance hall hostess", as she yearns to escape from the sordid drudgery of her job at the Fan-Dango Ballroom and to find love and marriage with Mr Right. However, it was always going to be difficult to associate Bonnie Langford, who plays Charity, with murky moral ambivalence. Despite her impressive track record of work on stage and large and small screens, you can't shake the suspicion that deep down, she's more Violet Elizabeth Bott (from Just William) than a goodtime girl with a heart of gold. Director Carol Metcalfe has put together an amusing, likeable show which features some vivid ensemble numbers. She could hardly miss with Big Spender or If My Friends Could See Me Now, while additional treats include the fringed, headbanded flowerpower hippies prancing around to Rhythm Of life, the comical sixties dance routine at the Pompeii Club, and the giant whirl of I Love To Cry At Weddings. Neil Simon's book adds some sharp asides and one-liners, like the Fan-Dango dancer's curled-lip classic, "Who dances? We defend ourselves to music." What's lacking, though, is a shot of hard American brassiness, which was choreographer Bob Fosse's stock-in-trade and which he imparted by the bucket-load to both stage and movie versions of Sweet Charity. Langford is feisty and effervescent and looks like she's enjoying herself, but she's more Bournemouth pier than Broadway. Behind the humour, this is a sour little tale, reeking of trampled dreams and ending on a bum note when Charity's perfect husbandto-be, Oscar, abruptly decides he caret cope with her chequered past and leaves her to flounder. But the Fan-Dango isn't tawdry or tragic enough, which is perhaps why Oscar's change of heart seems merely baffling rather than a moment of brutal but logical emotional violence. The show is fun, but it needs an extra edge of darkness." Adam Sweeting, The Guardian