Watermill Theatre, Newbury
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Book by Neil Simon
Directed by Paul Hart
Cy Coleman’s score for Sweet Charity, much like his compositions for The Life, define his ability to create a musical around humanity’s grittier perspectives. Inspired by a Fellini screenplay, Neil Simon’s book carries a timeless ring of abuse. Charity is a good trusting woman who is ultimately used by both the men we see her become involved with; the humble Oscar and the powerful Vittorio Vidal. The message is clear - irrespective of their place in society, men are manipulative misogynists. And yet although the narrative may be harsh, the genius of the show’s writers lies in having framed their tale within a structure of some of the 1960’s finest musical theatre writing.
The powerhouse driving this production is Gemma Sutton’s Charity. Sutton is a performer who only knows the meaning of excellence in her work, capturing Charity’s kooky complex vulnerability and delivering a performance that by turn breaks our hearts and then makes them soar in the show’s biggest numbers. Her voice and presence are majestic in songs such as If My Friends Could See Me Now and I’m A Brass Band and yet, throughout, she captures Charity’s precious fragility, so painfully recognisable in her exquisite interpretation.
Sutton is well supported by a perfectly cast company. Tomi Ogbaro as Daddy revives and inspires the audience as he leads Rhythm Of Life. Elliot Harper’s Vidal is convincing in his suave arrogance, while the show’s girls (Nicola Bryan, Vivien Carter, Stacey Ghent Emma Jane Morton and Laura Sillett) make magnificent work of Big Spender, returning it to its pre-Bassey beauty.
Perhaps the greatest revelation of the evening is Alex Cardall’s Oscar. Straight out of the Arts Educational School, and yet another NYMT alumnus to make a leading debut this summer, Cardall masters Oscar’s manipulative maturity with a confidence that belies his years. With perfectly weighted nuance and pinpoint delivery on the gags, his is classy work indeed.
Behind the scenes Diego Pitarch’s designs sees two pairs of bi-folding mirrors whirled around the stage ingeniously, while the translations of Coleman’s score to an actor-muso company is, yet again, flawless musical supervision from Sarah Travis. Charlie Ingles has directed Travis’ work with the instrumentalists, but on the night and on stage it is an assured Tom Self that oversees the delivery of these bold, brassy melodies.
Bob Fosse directed the show (originally on Broadway and later, its Hollywood iteration too) and while Tom Jackson Greaves has choreographed with imaginative flair within the Watermill’s cockpit space, Fosse’s fingerprints (footprints?) are everywhere. But for all the talent within this show, it is hampered by the Watermill’s challenging (and sometimes non-existent) sightlines that can render too much of Jackson Greaves’ (no doubt brilliant) dance work, invisible.
Yet again, the people of Newbury find themselves spoiled with this display of some of the finest talent in the land putting on a show that alongside being a rollercoaster of emotions, is a festival of sensational song and dance.
Runs until 15th September
Photo credit: Philip Tull