Richey Suncoast Theatre is semidark on a rainy Friday afternoon, but, even so, Jesslyn Kostopoulos is on stage singing a cappella and dancing to music in her head.
She's rehearsing to be Charity Hope Valentine, the title role in Sweet Charity, which opened the theater's 2008-09 season Thursday and continues for the next three weekends.
The role is considered to be one of the most challenging in musical theater. Created on Broadway in 1966 by the late Gwen Verdon, it calls for a triple threat performer: someone who can sing, dance and act.
Ms. Kostopoulos is a recent high school graduate, but her resume includes demonstrations of all three talents. She won a state Thespian Society award for her acting abilities. At Richey Suncoast, she has shown her singing and dancing ability as Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, Penny the swan in Honk!, June in Gypsy and Widow Corney in Oliver! Her dancing cred was polished when she choreographed A Pasco Christmas in 2004.
Even so, she's the first to acknowledge that Charity H. Valentine is a challenging role.
"This one is really tough," she said when she took a break during her recent solo rehearsal.
In it, Charity is a dime-a-dance girl at the Fan-Dango Ballroom in New York City. She's engaged to a no-good named Charlie (Clyde Bracknell), who will marry her just as soon as he gets a divorce. Of course, Charlie dumps her — literally — but she picks herself up and doesn't lose hope.
Charity's fellow dance hall girls warn her not to be so trusting, but they soon turn their attention to the potential customers in the show's most famous number, Hey, Big Spender.
Charity has an accidental one-evening fling with movie star Vittorino Vidal (Cody Carlson, Joe in Fame; Joseph in Dreamcoat), and happily sings If My Friends Could See Me Now. But she's quickly thrown over (again) when Vidal's mistress Ursula March (Star Verosic) shows up.
Charity then falls for shy Oscar Lindquist (Keith Surplus, Graylag in Honk!), who seems ready to forgive her for being so, um, physically generous with other men. He takes her to a jazzy church, where Daddy Johann Sebastian Brubeck (Jim Laird, Newshound in Chess) preaches — until the cops arrive. Then Oscar takes Charity to a carnival, where the couple get stuck in a parachute jump.
In short, Charity's romantic life seems in constant peril.
Besides Cy Coleman's upbeat score, Dorothy Fields' lyrics and Neil Simon's book, the show has several big dance numbers, including the high-energy Rich Man's Frug, the spirited Rhythm of Life and high-stepping I'm a Brass Band.
The original 1966 Broadway production won a Tony Award for Bob Fosse's choreography, and the revival in 1986 won four Tonys, including "Best Revival." The 1969 movie version starred Shirley MacLaine and Chita Rivera and garnered an Academy Award nomination for Coleman's music direction.
The Richey Suncoast version has a cast of 26 and is directed by Jim Poe and Liz Onley.