Left – Verity Hunt-Ballard. Cover – Verity Hunt-Ballard, Martin Crewes. Photos – Jeff Busby
Sweet Charity the musical is based on film director Federico Fellini's Nights of Calabria and transfers the story to a seedy dance hall in 60s New York – the Fandango Ballroom. A place where women earn their income by dancing/entertaining with various customers or, as our leading lady puts it – working as a social consultant. Of course there are other activities as well.
Within this world lives Charity, desperate for the one. The one who will fall in love with her and be her opportunity for a brighter future. It all sounds rather depressing, but this is really an optimistic tale – where the heroine constantly sees the light shining in the darkness and believes that one day she's "gonna get out". She isn't called Charity Hope Valentine for nothing.
With a sparkling book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, the show is a lively smorgasbord of colour and movement with many catchy tunes that non-musical lovers will recognise.
This particular production premiered at the intimate Hayes Theatre in Kings Cross (where I first saw it about a year ago). After great acclaim and several awards, the production has been picked up for a small tour, now playing a brief season in Melbourne.
What makes this production shine is the sheer energy and pace that director Dean Bryant and an accomplished company bring to the stage. Most of the original cast have returned, so the show is very similar to its original incarnation.
The cast is superbly led by Verity Hunt-Ballard as Charity, who puts her all into the lovable character. It's a demanding role that requires her to be funny, vibrant and vulnerable, often at the same time. Even with the slightly downbeat ending, Verity makes you see that this girl is going to pick herself up and will never give up.
Another stand-out is Debora Krizak (Nickie/Ursula) – a strong, funny performance from a seasoned performer.
Then there's Martin Crewes who is cast as the three very different romantic partners of Charity. Crewes creates three completely different personas and is a highlight in the show. Both his acting performance and singing voice are a major asset to this production.
The ensemble all perform their multiple roles very well and execute Andrew Hallsworth's snappy choreography to perfection.
The staging design is kept minimal, and resembles a Production Company performance with the band onstage at the rear. An imaginative lighting design by Ross Graham captures the mood of each scene effectively.
Added to this mix Tim Chappel has created some colourful, fun costumes that also add to the success.
And if you wondering about those songs – this is the show that gave us tunes such as I'm a Brass Band, Where Am I Going, If My Friends Could See Me Now, The Rhythm of Life and the number that became a signature for Dame Shirley Bassey – Big Spender.
Maybe it's time to spend a little time with the Sweet Charity gang.
Arts Centre Melbourne in association with Luckiest Productions, Neil Gooding Productions, Tinderbox Productions and Hayes Theatre Co presents
Book by Neil Simon | Music by Cy Coleman | Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed by Dean Bryant
Venue: Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
Dates: 25 February – 7 March 2015
Tickets: from $59
Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au | www.ticketmaster.com.au