Sweet Charity

22 November-8 December, Theatre Hawke's Bay
By Jess Soutar Barron

In full technicolour cartoon vibrancy, with the accompaniment of a live chamber orchestra, this show brings the singalong tunes, the big dance numbers and the quirky characters required to deliver a great night out. The plot centres on the fortunes of a plucky chick in a big city – a thoroughly-modern-millie – and plays out like a newspaper comic strip, one blunder, one lucky break, one calamity after another.

Styling references Norman Rockwell tableaus. This is the New York of Barefoot in the Park and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Scenes set in elevators, on subway trains, on ferris wheels are cleverly conjured. Striking silhouettes hark back to vaudeville/cabaret/burlesque, if Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore or Carol Burnett did burlesque.

The big star, Alex Richardson, manages to stay sexy while channeling all three of these Dames. The whole piece really does revolve around Richardson; she’s on stage the entire time and working hard. She’s a cracking dancer, singer and actress, with charismatic stage presence and an almost awkward gait that’s charming.

In the chorus line, there’s a tentativeness as if they’re saving themselves, crank it up another 10% and they’ll have it nailed! This show brings booming tunes and jazz hands with no room for subtle or self-contained. The known numbers like Big Spender and If My Friends Could See Me Now however are super-charged. There’re some songs, which aren’t as known – but should be – that are also delivered beautifully, packing them with more power would make them dynamite. Baby Dream Your Dream gives Olivia Karlsson a chance to show off what is obviously a big talent that’ll be exciting to watch to develop. Andrew Clibborn proves his worth near the end with I Love To Cry At Weddings. Across the board, the Born To Move Ensemble brings top-class dance skills and is given the space to lean in to the opportunity. The narrative is punctuated by a few all-encompassing surreal dance dream sequences where the ensemble struts their massive talent. Jamie Hollway is particularly riveting from first high kick to last chasse.

We’re lucky to have dancers like Hollway and actors like Richardson currently calling the Bay home. Their enormous talent deserves to be met where it’s at, so trifles like the odd tech glitch or cheap wig do let shows like this down. A soft-spot for Theatre HB means audience forgives squelchy crackles and mics fading in and out but it’d be terrific to see this cast stretch out into a full stage and be rewarded by hitch-less backup. Having said that, the complimentary coffee’n’cake at half time would be sorely missed if shows sashayed off to a bigger facility. And having the stars close-up gives us a treat that audiences at larger places would never get.

 

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