Rife with comedy, charisma and choreography evocative of the “Austin Powers” movie series, Fairleigh Dickinson University’s rendition of “Sweet Charity” provided a light-hearted, satisfactory theater experience for audiences. And while many of the musical numbers were easily forgettable, the flawless comedic timing excused flubbed accents and acutely blasé acting.
The musical follows title character, Charity Hope Valentine, a ballroom hostess at the Fandango Club, in her search for love, happiness and, most importantly, a better life for herself. Encountering obstacles along the way, Charity finds herself waist deep in the waters of trouble (she literally falls into the lake three times) as she struggles to break away from the Fandango Club and discover herself. It is Charity’s internal conflict that drives the action within the play, towing along a long a trail of ho-hum musical numbers.
The show’s most memorable musical number, “Big Spender,” added the spice needed to pepper up a sluggish first act.
Cindy Fernandez shined as Nikki, Charity’s co-worker and best friend, in that number, seducing the Fandango Club customers with a come hither hiss and foxy feminine flair that perfectly underlined Nikki’s motives and skills as a seductress. Fernandez moved with conviction and determination, signaling Nikki’s strong, confident personality. She also portrayed Nikki’s vulnerability with slower movements and softer facial experssions in “Baby, Dream Your Dream.”
Michelle Cabot shined as Charity. Her flippant attitude and squirish mannerisms played perfectly to her character’s indecisions and uncertainties about her future. Cabot’s powerful voice, accompanied by fluid dance movements, empowered “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” making it one of Charity’s less dispensable comedic musical numbers. Cabot drove that number home and showed her knack for physical comedy when she danced on Vittorio Vidal’s (played by Louis Vetter) bed. Dreaming stares, excited moments and an overall bounciness were all devices that Cabot employed to portray Charity’s good-hearted nature and her naïveté.
Undoubtedly, the piece de resistance was Matt Sullivan’s role as claustrophobic, overanxious Oscar Lindquist. Sullivan played Oscar with careful, contemplative intention behind every movement. From the second that Sullivan stepped onto the stage, Oscar’s neuroticism was easily identifiable by fidgeting, pacing and strained breathing. Sullivan’s most memorable moment was undisputably the scene in which Charity and Oscar were stuck in the elevator. Clinging and climbing on the side of the elevator, Sullivan delivered his lines in a refreshingly hilarious yet uneasy manner, emphasizing his character’s discomfort and inner fears. In his duet with Cabot at the end of the first act, Sullivan’s musical chops were beautifully displayed with nearly perfect pitch and wonderful clarity.
However, the same can’t be said of the entire cast. Vetter’s performance as Vidal lacked the passion and strife that came with his character’s romance conflicts. It must be said, however, that his body language was exact and believable despite his waning attempt at a foreign accent. In his song, “Too Many Tomorrows” a few notes ran away from Vetter, however, that number was perhaps the one place where Vetter genuinely created Vidal into a sympathetic character through believable emotion and movement.
Rosemary Glennon’s performance of Ursula also felt forced. Her attraction and then disappointment with Vidal felt too fabricated. Her lines were delivered too matter-of-factly, especially when she left Vidal at the restaurant. But when she reunited with Vidal in his bedroom, her character began to feel more fleshed out. While her lines may have felt rushed, her voice was sincere as were her projected emotions.
The set, though simple, was an appropriate foil to the complex characters within the play, with some pieces doubling as buildings, structures and closets.
The cast and crew did a good job in spicing up a dull musical score. Even though it lacked pizazz, with careful attention to movement and comedic timing, the production was overall light and enjoyable.