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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
SWEET CHARITY
at Theatre Royal Haymarket

THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS
By ALLEN ROBERTSON

  Tiffany Graves, Tamzin Outhwaite and Josefina Gabrielle/ Ph: Catherine Ashmore

In Broadway’s glorious heydays New Haven provided an iconic “make or break” opportunity. Like Boston or Philadelphia, it helped ensure that a show’s eventual opening night in Manhattan would be well oiled, highly buffed and as smooth as could be.

The immense costs inherent in White Way economics are now so crippling that today’s musicals rarely have the chance to perform their nips and tucks out of town. Well, that’s not strictly true; there is one unexpected exception to this – London’s Menier Chocolate Factory Theatre.

Miles east of the West End, and virtually within the shadow of London Bridge, the factory was built in 1870. In 2004 it was converted to a 150-seat theatre, augmented with a restaurant and bar. The outcome has proved consistently triumphant. A Little Night Music and La Cage aux Folles are two of the productions that started at the Menier before transferring to the West End and then on to Broadway. Following the Menier’s Sunday in the Park with George across the Atlantic, the two of them garnered 15 of this year’s Tony Award nominations.

It fact, the Menier has now become such a West End/Broadway outpost that Hal Prince and Susan Stroman have chosen it to showcase their latest production, Paradise Found. Their cast includes such Broadway stalwarts as Mandy Patinkin, John McMartin and Judy Kaye.

The most recent Menier show to arrive in the West End is Sweet Charity, directed by Matthew White in conjunction with London’s current star choreographer Stephen Mear. It is already booking into next year. Pleasant without being spectacular, it is unlikely to ever cross the Atlantic. The 1966 Bob Fosse original, to say nothing of subsequent Yank revivals, make this London-tinged take feel a bit askew. And without Fosse’s drive we can easily spot that there is too much padding needed to turn this into a full evening. Neil Simon’s one-liners zing throughout, but the second act’s joyous production numbers – "Rhythm of Life" and "I Love to Cry at Weddings" – are actually little more than generic fillers with scant relevance to the plot.

“Necessity is the mother of invention” proves an apt axiom for this production. Tim Shortall’s designs are simple but so smoothly organized that they keep the production moving seamlessly, and the casting is shared out in such a way that every character in the show except Charity herself appears in multiple roles.

The finest example of this is leading man Mark Umbers. First he plays Charlie, the scumbag who pushes Charity into the Central Park Lake, then he’s the Italian film star Vittorio Vidal, who has a comedic, unintentionally chaste one-night stand with her, and finally the uptight accountant Oscar Lindquist who tries but eventually fails to forget Charity’s loose past. Together this trio highlights her essential plight: All men are the same and none of them is worthy of her openheartedness.

Tamzin Outhwaite, a major UK TV star, is perhaps too knowing as Charity. Fine though she is, Outhwaite lacks that heart-on-sleeve vulnerability needed to transform this character from gullible patsy to heartbreaking gamine.

The scaled-down orchestra is stupendous. What a gorgeous amount of noise two trumpets and a trombone can make; and no staging of "Big Spender" has ever been so cuttingly acidic. Ultimately, no one is going to grumble with this, though some may feel that not enough magic has been sprinkled around.

 

 


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