Another musical. Another revival. This version of 'Sweet Charity' is a transfer from the Menier Chocolate Factory who are certainly no strangers to musical revivals. And they've done pretty well so far with the ones they've tackled. But overall, I'm not sure this musical even deserved another showing, largely because it has a limp book by Neil Simon - tired jokes and a plot that goes nowhere, at what can only be described as a snail's pace. Though faithful to the original, there is a new ending, and the choreography has been reworked too, even though the famous choreographer Bob Fosse won awards for the original, back in the mid 1960s.
Tamzin Outhwaite is the bubbly, bouncy, all-round nice girl, Charity, who wants to escape the daily grind (pardon the pun) of being a taxi dancer in a dance hall. For those of you unused to the term, a taxi dancer is a woman who dances with men for money – sharing the price of a dance ticket with the management. Charity would love to get hitched and settle down in blissful obscurity, but all the men she meets are creeps. At the start of the show, her latest boyfriend steals her handbag and her dowry. Still, she has more in the bank it seems as she's got another lump sum to invest in a prospective hubby by the end of the show.
The scenes are mostly far too long, and even then nothing much really happens. And at the end of the play we find ourselves back in square one with Charity no further down the line to resolving her predicament. Now that may be the point, but along the way there should be some plot development that sparks real interest. But no. To cap it all, there's a totally irrelevant scene at the start of act 2 which has no place in the show, even if it does have one of the best known numbers from it, 'Rhythm of Life'.
Tamzin Outhwaite is effervescent with seemingly boundless energy and goodwill. She has an excellent singing voice with a distinctive quality to it. But I wondered what the reworked ending was saying about Charity's character. Though she's desperate to find a husband, she doesn't seem to grieve too much when things don't work out in the matrimonial department. In fact, she 'picks herself up, dusts herself down and starts all over again' … and very quickly too. Having built-up her own expectations and ours, I think we needed to see much more emotion from Ms Outhwaite come the ending – a scene which should be a real tear-jerker.
Mark Umbers plays all three of Charity's boyfriends. It's a neat kind of casting trick, and Umbers copes well with the gear changes, even if his Oscar Lindquist seemed rather similar to Superman's alter ego. There's also good support from the capable ensemble, especially the dance hall girls.
Also on the plus side, the dancing is pretty top notch, the band is on great form and the choreography does ample justice to Bob Fosse's original work. There's some subtle humour to be found in the dance routines, especially in the 'Rhythm of Life' scene, and from the women in the dance hall numbers. But once again, we had to have a man without his trousers to kick off the continuation of the elevator scene after the interval. Oh dear.
There's little to fault here in production terms. What lets it down is the book – the story just isn't nearly strong enough, even with a reworked ending. In fact, it's actually quite boring.
"The music is consistently as atmospheric and tuneful as Stephen Mear’s choreography, though much indebted to the great Bob Fosse, is crisp and lively....It is fun, fun fun. . "
"The show itself is a joy. From the moments you hear the bleary, brassy opening notes of the show’s most famous number, Hey Big Spender, one knows — as the song promises — that one is in for a good time. The band handles Cy Coleman’s outstanding jazzy score with superb panache throughout. The cast do splendid justice to Dorothy Fields’s witty and often touching lyrics and Neil Simon’s gag-filled script, in which he largely avoids the mushy sentimentality that is so often his downfall. "
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"Comes up trumps . "
Mark Shenton for The Stage
"This is an ingratiating, exuberant show with some gorgeous balletic moments and a winning vitality. "
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard