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Sweet Charity

I went to see Sweet Charity, the musical, at the New Wolsey Theatre. W saw it last week and loved it so I had high hopes but a couple of people (who are not keen on musicals) had been dismissive. The lead was played by Katie Birtill, who was new to me but has real star-quality. She grabbed my attention whenever she was on stage as the eternally optimistic unlucky Charity. She was, by turns, vulnerable, funny, and resilient. There really were no weak links in the casting. I liked James Haggie's rendition of her anxious swain Oscar, and Dan De Cruz's exuberant cult leader when leading The Rhythm of Life. The show's songs are now better known than the musical as a whole: most people know Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now. Cy Coleman's music is masterly and it was pleasing to notice a little snatch of melody that would emerge as the song Love Makes Such Fools of us All in Barnum, about fourteen years after Sweet Charity. The use of actor-musician has become a rather tired trope of Peter Rowe's shows at the Wolsey but here it gained a new lease of life by confining such roles to minor parts and by having the instruments on the main stage only occasionally. With an unusually large cast of seventeen, this was very effective. Libby Watson's set design uses large electronic displays to generate bright illuminated advertising-style displays redolent of Times Square. The costumes were striking but unobtrusive and the realisation of the lake in the park that is the setting for some critical scenes was technical genius. On the whole this was a creative masterclass in all departments. Neil Simon, Cy Coleman, and Dorothy Fields provided magnificent material and the Wolsey team have imbued it with glittering witty brilliance some fifty years later.

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September 2015

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