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The New Group Presents "Sweet Charity", Starring Sutton Foster, at The Pershing Square Signature Center
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The New Group Presents "Sweet Charity", Starring Sutton Foster, at The Pershing Square Signature Center

- Backstage with the Playwrights


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The New Group
Artistic Director, Scott Elliott
Exec. Director, Adam Bernstein
In association with Kevin McCollum

Sweet Charity
(Show Website)

Based on an original screenplay by Fellini / Pinelli / Plaiano

Book by Neil Simon
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields

With: Sutton Foster, Yesenia Ayala, Darius Barnes, James Brown III
Asmeret Ghebremichael, Shuler Hensley, Sasha Hutchings
Donald Jones, Jr., Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Emily Padgett
Joel Perez, Cody Williams

Directed by Leigh Silverman
Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse

The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036

Conducted by Mary-Mitchell Campbell
Music Direction: Georgia Stitt
Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Clint Ramos
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Leon Rothenberg
Hair and Wig Design: Charles G. LaPointe
Make-Up Design: Joe Dulude II
Production Supervisor: Production Core
Production Stage Manager: Valerie A. Peterson
Casting: Judy Henderson, CSA
Public Relations: Bridget Klapinski
Advertising: AKA
Associate Artistic Director: Ian Morgan
Development Director: Jamie Lehrer
General Manager: Kevin Condardo
Marketing Director: Cathy Popowytsch

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
January 7, 2017 Matinee

This new synthesized version of the Neil Simon-Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields musical, that was based on the 1957 Fellini film, "Nights of Cabiria", was thoroughly transporting and charming, set in Derek McLane's exposed brick, New York City 1960's Dance Hall, called Fandango. Sutton Foster is Charity Hope Valentine, a gal looking for a guy in retro naivete; that is, she seizes on the first man she meets who doesn't abuse her physically or psychically. Shuler Hensley is Oscar Lundquist, this shlubby claustrophobic, who becomes trapped on an elevator with Charity at the 92nd Street Y, one evening, and he thanks Charity with a "second date". Both Ms. Sutton and Mr. Hensley carry this show in emotionally fraught scenes that contrast with the would-be razzle dazzle of "Big Spender" (a number for Charity and her dance hall friends) and "The Rhythm of Life" (a rousing evangelical dance that finds Oscar and Charity watching on a bench). Charity and Oscar's chemistry is stronger than that of Charity and her numerous suitors or glamor-men, played by a very busy Joel Perez.

Mr. Perez plays the bullying club owner-Herman, the rejecting thief of a suitor (who steals Charity's wallet and tosses her into the shallow pond in the park)-Charlie, the Italian hunk of a movie star-Vittorio Vidal, who drops the aggressive Charity for his slinky floosy of a cold-hearted girlfriend, Ursula (Nikka Graff Lanzarone), and Daddy Brubeck-the revivalist preacher at the Rhythm of Life celebration. Mr. Perez sings with impressive, operatic vocal strength, especially as Vittorio, and this may be his breakout role. Mr. Hensley has won a Tony for his role as Jud in Oklahoma!, and his solo, "Sweet Charity", won the crowd over on today's final show of the run. Leigh Silverman has directed Ms. Sutton to use her exceptional talents (she has received rave reviews on these pages in Violet, Anything Goes, Young Frankenstein, and more) in wily, wanton, wistful fashion. She rarely exudes credible sexuality, but rather Fellini's vaudevillian, sad clown, also bringing Lucille Ball's madcap television roles to mind. In fact, Ms. Foster's cigarette and food dance, while Vittorio seduces Ursula, was worth the visit in itself and could be the kernel of an entirely new show on stage or small screen. The taxi-driver gals at Fandango, in Clint Ramos' sparkling, red sequined leotards and heels, also exuded inner loneliness and desperation, making their bridal shower for Charity and Oscar all the more poignant. They so much wanted to live vicariously through Charity's dream come true. Unfortunately, her Prince Charming had a dark underbelly of turmoil, all his own.

I had so looked forward to "Big Spender", but Joshua Bergasse, Choreographer, gave the number an understated treatment, unlike his great tap numbers in On the Town, adapted from Jerome Robbins' design. Here, Bob Fosse's design seems to have been overlooked in the synthesized reinvention of Sweet Charity, and the dances seemed too functionally constrained for the small stage. I'd love to see what Susan Stroman could do with this show, should it move to a tour or Broadway theater. Or, Mr. Bergasse could work more closely with Mr. Fosse's original directions. Once again, Sutton Foster carried this show with outsized personality and passion, especially in her own big numbers, "You Should See Yourself", "Charity's Soliloquy", and "If My Friends Could See Me Now". The reprise of "Big Spender" had a little more pizzazz, sung by the dance hall "hostesses", Helene (an excellent Emily Padgett), Carmen (Ms. Lanzarone), and Betsy (Yesenia Ayala). Darius Barnes, as Thomas, Marvin, etc., James Brown III, as Man with Dog, etc., Asmeret Ghebremichael, as Nickie, Sasha Hutchings as Elaine, etc., Donald Jones, Jr., as Ice Cream Vendor, etc., Cody Williams, as Walter, etc., and Lori Ann Ferreri and Ryan Worsing, as Swings, all filled out the cast with skill.

Sutton Foster and Joel Perez in
The New Group Production of "Sweet Charity"
Courtesy of Monique Carboni

Sutton Foster, Shuler Hensley, and Cast in
The New Group Production of "Sweet Charity"
Courtesy of Monique Carboni

Asmeret Ghebremichael and Emily Padgett in
The New Group Production of "Sweet Charity"
Courtesy of Monique Carboni

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at