The Show Palace Dinner Theatre opened its newest production Friday, the 1966 bittersweet musical comedy Sweet Charity, with some big bangs and a few whimpers.
It's the saga of Charity Hope Valentine, a shopworn taxi dancer who runs her life like a Yellow Cab going south in a northbound alley, courting (romantic) disaster at every encounter.
Because of her trusting nature, guileless gullibility and undiscerning brain cells, Charity (Samantha McKinnon Brown) repeatedly falls for flat-out scoundrels and fellows who mean well but end up acting like scoundrels.
As her fellow dancers at the Fan-Dango dance hall dream of glamorous careers as, um, receptionists and hat check girls, Charity dreams of the perfect man, who, of course, doesn't exist.
In a perfect casting world, the woman doing Charity would be a quadruple threat— boffo singer, dancer, actor, and comedian — but, like Charity's flawed life, perfect casting worlds rarely exist.
The challenge for the director is to capitalize on what he has and go from there, and, for the most part, director Michael Ursua has done just that. (Hey, Molly Ringwald doesn't dance and can barely sing, but she wowed audiences at the 2007 road show production on sheer charm and a dazzling smile.)
Ms. Brown is no Molly Ringwald, but she does have a pleasing set of pipes, some terrific comic moves and facial expressions and really good dramatic acting skills. To some extent, Ursua and choreographers Chris and Shanna Sell worked around Ms. Brown's limited dance moves, but they would be wise to bring her in even more and let the very capable ensemble dancers cover for her.
Further, and unfortunately, because of limited sight lines caused by a couple of bulky set pieces, Ms. Brown's best chance to show her comedy chops on writer Neil Simon's lines, the elevator and closet scenes, went unseen by at least a third of the opening night audience, a problem easily remedied with different stage blocking and some scene shifting.
That said, there's much that pleases in this show, including three eye-popping production numbers — the stylish Rich Man's Frug, rockin', bell-bottomed Rhythm of Life and high-stepping I'm a Brass Band — and a light-up-the-stage performance by Christopher Swan playing two of Charity's suitors, the Italian actor Vittorio Vidal and the shy, nervous accountant Oscar Lindquist.
Swan plays both roles as nice guys, one who isn't really interested in Charity, the other who can't quite take her ways. He's equally convincing as both characters and a joy to watch.
Lauren Gemilli, as Charity's best bud Nickie, vamps it up like a Jersey Shore vixen and is a real doll. Ayana Wright, as back-up bud Helene, radiates attitude and spunk. Scott Daniel's Daddy Brubeck, the '60s-style street preacher at the Rhythm of Life Church, could ramp it up a bit more; Thomas Mothershed as Fan-Dango boss Herman, could ramp it down. Even so, both add sparkle and energy to the show.
The dance line, like Baby Bear, has it just right, whirling and twirling, jumping and kicking to beat the band. Though the show is known for its Bob Fosse moves, choreographers Chris and Shanna Sell have worked with most of these dancers before and know their strengths, so they put their own spin on the steps, and it works beautifully.
Sweet Charity comes on the heels of two of the Show Palace's biggest and most challenging productions in recent years, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which had to take a toll on many in the current production who were also in those shows. So if the cast and crew looked a little pooped on opening night, it's certainly understandable.
Once they all get a chance to catch their breath, Sweet Charity should start hitting on all cylinders and, despite its downer ending, ride like an uptown limo.