Sutton Foster Shines as Charity Hope Valentine

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Photo by Monique Carboni

By Karen Isaacs

It’s not often that you get to sit ten feet from a two-time Tony winner as she dances and sings her way through an iconic role.

Yet those who get to see The New Group production of Sweet Charity now at the Pershing Square Signature Center on W. 42nd Street will have that pleasure. It’s running through Jan. 8.

Sutton Foster,the two-time Tony winner and four time nominee, is playing Charity Hope Valentine, the taxi-dancer who dreams of escaping to a better life.

As directed by Leigh Silverman, this is a pared down production as befitting off-Broadway. The audience sits on three sides of the stage; a narrow platform separates the stage from the audience though it is often used by the cast.

A five piece orchestra directed by Georgia Kitt – it is an all-female group – plays the reduced orchestrations by Mary-Mitchell Campbell. The orchestrations have not lost any of their richness. The cello in the group provides a nice touch.

The cast is similarly pared down, besides the four primary characters, eight performers (four men and four women) play all the other roles.

Derek McLane has designed the set which suggests the various locations without recreating them.  A series of doors at the back of the stage aid in the design. He has delightfully suggested the opening scene where Charity gets pushed into a fountain in Central Park.

But any production of this show revolves around the actress playing Charity and the choreography. This production lucks out; both are excellent.

Everyone knows that Sutton Foster dances like a dream and can put over just about any song. But here she shows us fully dimensional character. Charity is not a caricature, which she could be. She is by turns flirtatious, confident and needy. At times, between the hairstyle and Foster’s evanescent smile, she reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore. She is not cynical but worn around the edges and her optimism is more tenuous than usual. This makes the ending that much more heart-breaking for the audience and her; we want her to have her dreams come true.

Foster effectively puts over the choreography by Joshua Bergasse which is less suggestive of the original Bob Fosse choreography than often done. Of course, the “Big Spender” number has to remind us of the original.

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Shuler Hensley and Sutton Foster. Photo by Monique Carboni

Shuler Hensley plays Oscar the shy accountant who seems taken with Charity and willing to overlook her past. Perhaps because Hensley is a big man, it may be hard to totally accept him as a shy, unconfident male equivalent of a wall flower. But the scene in the elevator with Charity that ends act 1, “I’m the Bravest Individual” – is terrific. Oscar is an important role in the play, yet he is not given much music; just that one song in act one and “Sweet Charity” in act two. It’s too bad because Hensley’s voice is wonderful.

Asmeret Ghebremichael plays Nickie and Emily Padgett is Helene, the two dancers who are closest to Charity. Each is very good and create different personalities.  They lead the group in “Big Spender,” and “Baby, Dream Your Dream.”  They too get caught up in Charity’s possibility for a happy ending.

Other company members play a variety of roles. Joel Perez does well as Vittoria Vidal and Daddy Brubeck. I look forward to seeing him in more roles as his career progresses.

But the real joy of this production in addition to performance of Foster and Hensley is the opportunity to be up-close to the stage.

It’s very worth seeing.The limited tickets available are at The New Group.

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Sutton Foster and Joel Perez. Photo by Monique Carboni

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Fandango Dancers. Photo by Monique Carboni

 

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