I wasn’t looking forward to seeing the Island ETC East End Theatre Company production of “Sweet Charity.”
Sure, it’s a classic show (and movie) that’s been revived several times and has won a shelf-load of awards. It’s just the story of the unlucky-in-love dancer for hire is usually such a downer.
Charity is adorable but she chooses horrible men and is stuck in a dead-end job. The show starts out with her being robbed and pushed into the lake and ends pretty much the same way.
The Island ETC show won me over thanks to its more hopeful take on the story. Equity actor Ellen Dyer was charming, vibrant and strong as Charity Hope Valentine (it’s worth seeing the show just for her) and Matt Poole works magic as Oscar Lindquist, making him seem less cowardly and mean.
Usually, I’m depressed by the ending, thinking Oscar has destroyed Charity’s hopes and the fact he didn’t rob her is of no consequence, but in this show Poole had me convinced that Oscar was acting in Charity’s best interest. The newly opened bank account also took on more significance representing a hopeful future for Charity, a chance to change her life. So, kudos to director Kim Mytelka and her cast and crew for making me see this classic musical in a new way.
As well as strong performances from the leads, there’s plenty to enjoy in the supporting cast. Edwin Robinson exudes a shifty charisma in the “Rhythm of Life,” which well sung by the entire cast. Emerald Aue and Caitlyn Mytelka were tender and tough as Charity’s dance hall friends, while Michael Wonio had a ratty appeal as their boss Herman.
Frank Petronella was a crowd favorite as fading movie star Vittorio Vidal, but he needs to make sure he doesn’t ham it up too much. For my money, he’s more effective when being tender toward Charity.
Ensemble performers Christine Kaye, Hanna Harper, Kelsey Perkins, Tori Shoemaker, Lance Bleakney, Trevor Grace and Cody House all work hard. Chesney Garza and Penny Rieger really know how to sell a song, dance and a joke and particularly stand out.
Carol Daubert is the musical director for the show and, as always, the live music from Mike Adamcik (woodwinds), Deb Lewis (keyboards), Steve Silverberg (woodwinds) and Tom Wood (bass) is a highlight.
Choreographer Jennifer Daugherty also deserves praise for her lively work that makes even the non-dancers look good. “Rich Man’s Frug” and “I’m a Brass Band” had the razzle dazzle of a big show number while smaller numbers like “If My Friends Could See Me Now” where charming.
Jutta Franklin and Tony Garcia have a huge job costuming the large cast with multiple changes. Overall they do a good job of evoking the era and helping create instantly recognizable characters. Nitpicks would be Charity’s obviously stuck on tattoo and the sloppy fit of the dresses for some of the Fandango Ballroom Hostesses.
Tom King’s angular set is a little like a tiered cake with a black curtain of shiny ribbon at the top. It effectively evokes a variety of locations while giving us the feeling we are seeing behind the showbiz curtain to see real life. At times the set changes were fussy and in the second half slowed the action down somewhat. Also some of the set painting could have been executed to a higher standard.
Overall, this is a lively and hopeful take on a classic musical that is worth checking out. The production marks Island ETC East End Theatre’s 12th birthday and it’s one to be proud of.