Sweet Charity

Cynthia Dale as Charity
Cynthia Dale as Charity

Written by Neil Simon
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed and Choreographed by Michael Lichtefeld
Musical direction by Charlene Nafziger
Performed by Cynthia Dale et al
Drayton Entertainment Production
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
June 10 to 26, 2010
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Sweet Charity needs a new sweet ending

It’s easy to see why Cynthia Dale would want the lead in Sweet Charity – a big role, lots of time at centre stage – singing, dancing, even tapping. She is an amazing 49 year old, and she certainly pulls off the part of a 20 year old. Sweet Charity is now on stage at Huron Country Playhouse in Grand Bend.

Cynthia Dale has two main claims to fame – she had the lead on the Stratford Festival stage for many years and was obviously a favourite of former artistic director, the late Richard Monette. She had all the plum leads — starting with Guenevere in Camelot, then Aldonza in Man of LaMancha, Eliza in My Fair Lady, Maria in Sound of Music, Nellie in South Pacific and Edythe in My One and Only. She is also well known for her role as aggressive lawyer Olivia Novack in the CBC TV series Street Legal that ran from 1987 to 1994.

Huron Country Playhouse needed Cynthia Dale in order to sell tickets for this lesser known musical. It’s not a popular show, so there had to be a special attraction, and Cynthia Dale, with her excellent reputation, became the drawing card. Sweet Charity, on its own, is not a strong enough show to fill seats.

Don’t get me wrong, — This Drayton Entertainment Production is very well done with what it has to work with. The story of Sweet Charity was written in the 1960s and it’s dated. Charity Hope Valentine is a dance hall hostess (read hooker) who gets paid for entertaining male guests. The song Hey Big Spender is sung by a group of girls waiting to be picked up for a fee.

Charity falls in love with every guy that looks at her, and all she wants is to settle down and become a housewife. Finally, a total nerd falls for her — and here we need a spoiler alert – when he learns of her chequered past, he dumps her. And the story ends abruptly, when he decides he can’t marry her because she’s not a virgin. That’s where Sweet Charity fails – how can you enjoy a musical comedy without the requisite happy ending?

Paul McQuillan has a lot of fun with three roles.  First he plays Charity’s boyfriend Charlie who steals her money and leaves her, then he’s movie star Vittorio Vidal, and finally he’s the goofy nerd Oscar Lindquist. He goes over the top as Oscar, which only makes us realize how desperate Charity is. He is such a geek; we can’t accept that he dumps her. Charity is way too good for him.

Among the dance hall girls, two stand out: Ayrin Mackie as Nickie and Kimberley Rampersad as Helene. The rest of the cast – male and female – are all impressive dancers.

The choreography is superior. We can see the Fosse influence in the Rich Man’s Frug, which is reminiscent of the Austin Powers movies. Charity’s tap dance number is a delight.

The hippie scene at the Rhythm of Life Church is a real audience pleaser. Laughter ripples across the theatre as the hippies enter.

The set is good, reflecting the psychedelic sixties. Costumes are excellent – from the tired looking dance hall girls’ skimpy skirts, to the sequinned ritzy look of the rich.

If you’re a Cynthia Dale fan, you’ll enjoy this show, as it is such a good vehicle for her triple threat talents. I found myself marvelling at the fact that she is indeed 49. But because I knew she was much older than the role called for, I was sometimes distracted by that reality. And unfortunately, the plot of Sweet Charity wasn’t always strong enough to bring me back.

Sweet Charity continues with eight shows a week until June 26 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at 519-238-6000, Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463, or check out www.draytonentertainment.com


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