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Theater Review: "Sweet Charity"

"Sweet Charity" now playing at the Welk Resort San Diego
Photo credit:
Ken Jacques

“Sweet Charity” is a musical with a good pedigree and a good-hearted heroine. Neil Simon wrote the book, Cy Coleman the songs and Dorothy Fields the lyrics; the whole is adapted from the Fellini film “Nights of Cabiria.”

The musical doesn’t have much to say (except, perhaps, that people can always be counted on to disappoint).

But fortunately, thanks to Director/ choreographer Ray Limón, it has plenty to watch. “Sweet Charity” plays in an extended run through Nov. 20 at Welk Resorts San Diego.

The 1966 show was originally choreographed and directed by Bob Fosse as a starring vehicle for his wife Gwen Verdon.

Fosse did the same for the 1969 film starring Shirley MacLaine. At Welk, local dance legend Limón has created some terrific dances for the sensational Natalie Nucci (Charity) and her entourage.

At the top of the show, Charity meets her no-goodnik (and bored) boyfriend Charlie (John Paul Batista) in Central Park, where (sweetheart that he is) he steals her purse and shoves her into the lake.

Somebody finally fishes her out, but that’s enough to make you question a few things, don’t you think? But Charity Hope Valentine (how’s that for a name?) just goes back to work as a dance hall hostess at New York City’s Fandango Ballroom, where she and her fellow taxi dancers look for a “Big Spender” to spend a little time with.

After work, Charity donates to all the street people who ask, until she finally realizes she’s broke.

Just then, the “fickle finger of fate” intervenes, and she ends up in the apartment of international film star Vittorio Vidal (Gerardo Flores), who has just had a blowup with mistress Ursula (Carly Cannata).

Charity can’t believe her luck (singing “If My Friends Could See Me Now”) – and that’s a good thing, because despite the trinkets he gives her and a terrific dance number to “The Rich Man’s Frug,” this adventure will not quite work out as hoped.

Poor Charity. It’s back to the Fandango again where, as colleague Nickie puts it, “Who dances? We defend ourselves to music.”

Then the plot gets really nutty.

Charity meets shy, nerdy Oscar (Daniel Newheiser) when they both get stuck in a broken elevator, where in a cute scene Oscar gets progressively hysterical and Charity calms him down.

When they finally get out of the elevator, he invites her to church (!) and she says yes (!!) That’s crazy enough, but this is the Rhythm of Life church – right out of “Hair” – complete with unreconstructed hippies in tie-dye, oozing around in what might be a pot-induced haze until the cops break it up.

I’ll leave you to find out the rest of the paper-thin plot.

Just know that it serves perfectly well as a star vehicle for Nucci and for Limón’s terrific choreography – and, not to be forgotten, the talented and well-trained ensemble who dance their hearts out.

Nucci plays this goofy plot straight, and she’s so sincere that you’ll probably want things to work out for Charity just as much as she does. And she dances like a dream.

Newheiser’s Oscar provides an interesting psychological contrast for the fearless Charity. That elevator scene is a gem.

Flores has a lovely voice, but doesn’t get to sing enough. Still, Vittorio’s “Too Many Tomorrows” is beautiful.

The dance corps is outstanding. Charity and her two fellow taxi dancers Nickie (Adrian Mustain) and Helene (Justin High) do some fine high-stepping as a trio as well.

Kudos to set designer Brian Redfern, who manages to makes the switch from crowded elevator to the tony Pompeii Club to the colored-neon second level of the Fandango to Vittorio’s bedroom look easy.

Credit Janet Pitcher for the terrific costumes, Jennifer Edwards for the fine lighting and Patrick Hoyny for the excellent sound design. Justin Gray’s mighty four-member band makes plenty of good sounds.

“Sweet Charity” cannot be done successfully without a knockout star and terrific choreography (with the dancers to perform it). This production has it all.

The details

“Sweet Charity” plays through November 20, 2016 at Welk Resort San Diego, 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido.

Thursday and Saturday at 1 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 pm.

Tickets: (888) 802-7469 or welkresorts.com