H-T Review: Nostalgia, humor star in ‘Sweet Charity’ at IU

“Sweet Charity” premiered in 1966, but the musical owes a lot to the Broadway tradition that thrived a few decades before.

Cy Coleman’s score and Dorothy Fields’ lyrics hark back to the swing era. The storytelling style foreshadows musical theater of the 1970’s, but the music keeps “Sweet Charity” feeling old school.

The show is based on Federico Fellini’s 1957 Italian drama film “Nights of Cabiria.” The adaptation was done by Neil Simon, just on the heels of his 1965 hit “The Odd Couple.”

The IU Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance is staging “Sweet Charity” in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre. The show is directed and choreographed by Kenneth L. Roberson, whose credits include choreographing the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of “Avenue Q.”

WedIMG_0906Charity Hope Valentine dreams of a doing something greater than her current occupation as a dance hall hostess at the Fandango Ballroom in New York City. The job, which is associated with prostitution, is an unfortunate situation that Charity blames on “the fickle finger of fate.”

She’s also experiencing deficiencies in her love life; a meeting in the park with Charlie, a suave, alluring man, concludes with Charlie stealing Charity’s purse and pushing her into a lake.

Charity is known by the other women at the Fandango Ballroom as one who too easily falls victim to love. The next man in her life is Vittorio Vidal, a sexy Italian movie star that Charity encounters outside a ritzy club. The character of Vittorio, an iteration of the foreign lover trope, is another callback to swing era musicals.

Charity’s run-in with Vittorio turns into Vittorio making love to his girlfriend, Ursula, while Charity hides in the closet. Charity next searches for enlightenment at the YMHA, where, presumably by “the fickle finger of fate,” she ends up trapped in an elevator with Oscar Lindquist, a charming, claustrophobic bachelor.

Charity’s courtship with Oscar is the subject of the second act. The two lovebirds visit everywhere from Coney Island to a cultish hippie church. Everything would be perfect if not for one little hitch: Oscar, who prizes above all else a woman’s purity, doesn’t know the truth of Charity’s occupation.

The title role is filled by Emily Kelly, a senior pursuing a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre. Kelly’s vocals are consistently strong throughout the show. “You Should See Yourself” and “Where Am I Going?” are both fine solo performances from Kelly.

Craig Franke plays opposite Kelly as Oscar, a well-meaning doofus. Franke and Kelly have nice chemistry as the leading couple.

“Sweet Charity” is undoubtedly on the soupy side; don’t come looking for sophistication. What you can expect is humor, decent music and high-quality dancing. Roberson’s group dancing sequences in particular are superb.

The show features creative and appropriate designs, including Bridgette Dreher’s set, Aaron Bowersox’s lighting and Emmie Phelps’ costumes.

Anyone who can appreciate a classic Broadway musical can appreciate something in “Sweet Charity.”

If you go

WHO: Indiana University Department of Theatre, Drama and Contemporary Dance

WHAT: “Sweet Charity” by Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields

WHERE: Ruth N. Halls Theatre in the Norvelle Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: $15-$25. Call 812-855-1103 or visit theatre.indiana.edu.

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Go the the SOURCE – heraldtimesonline.com.

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H-T Theatre preview: ‘Sweet Charity’ opens this week

We’ve got a couple of shows to talk about this week. One opens Friday, the other a week from Thursday.

This week’s IU opener is “Sweet Charity,” a Broadway musical from 1966. Because I was born in 1967, I’m not going to say “way back in 1966.” If you feel the need to insert those words mentally, then you’re mean. Anyway …

“Sweet Charity” features a book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and choreography by Bob Fosse, so we’re talking about some pretty heavy hitters here. Like the musical “Nine,” this one is also based on a Federico Fellini film, “Nights of Cabiria.” It’s the story of a dance-hall girl named Charity Hope. (One can assume she is sweet.) We know she is desperate for love and hopeful she’ll find it — no small feat for a woman who makes a living as a taxi dancer, selling her time to men for less than a dollar a dance.


The girls from the Fandango Ballroom in rehearsal.

Director Kenneth Roberson says, “Because of the commercial restrictions of Broadway at that time, the play really walks a fine line in terms of the sexual nature of the taxi dancer situation. These women weren’t officially prostitutes, but negotiations were certainly made at times.”

Now that you’ve had a healthy gasp, I’ll tell you that the show is a comedy, and it’s uplifting. Not gritty like “Taxi Driver” or absurd like “Pretty Woman,” it finds its balance. And as the director says, “We can’t help but be inspired by Charity. Despite it all, she still believes in love and the possibility for that in her life.”

Reprinted with permission from The Herald Times. Read the original preview here.

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Sweet Charity – A note from the Assistant Director

Joe Stollenwerk: Working on a Musical

Sweet Charity is a unique show. Premiering in 1966, it had one foot in old school musical comedy tradition and the other in the concept musical that would transform musical theatre in the 1970s.

It’s a perfect choice for Themester 2015, as the characters, from dance hall hostesses and accountants to film stars and panhandlers, are frequently hard at work. Particularly, the show places women at work at the foreground, showing the drudgery and hinting at the danger the women of the Fandango Ballroom endure every day of their lives. And yet, Sweet Charity also focuses on the bonds these women share. One might even say that Charity’s friendship with her female coworkers is given greater importance than her romantic relationships.

Sweet Charity also highlights the hardest working woman in musical theatre: Dorothy Fields, whose career began writing lyrics for The Cotton Club in Harlem in the 1920s, and who weathered the rise and fall of musical revues, musical comedies, movie musicals, the integrated musical, and finally, the concept musical. Fields was sixty when she wrote the astonishingly fresh and contemporary lyrics for Sweet Charity, her first musical since the death of her brother and frequent collaborator Herbert seven years prior.

And speaking of work, this is the second show I have done this year with director Kenneth Roberson and musical director Terry LaBolt, following this spring’s Into the Woods. As a Ph.D. Candidate about to (I hope!) get a teaching job at a college where I will be teaching and directing undergraduates, I am truly thankful to have worked for and with them this year. Kenneth and Terry are artists, but they are foremost dedicated teachers: I have learned so much—and I’m sure I will borrow some of their tips and techniques—by watching them blend teaching and directing in the rehearsal room.

Work is what musical theatre is all about. I’ve been impressed with the creativity and dedication of the design team, who bring more ideas to the table than can be counted and have handled changes and curveballs with grace. The cast’s hard work is on display each night, although their polished performances mask the endless hours they put into learning these dances and developing these characters. And if you ever want to find the hardest working people in theatre, look no farther than the Stage Management table.

Being part of Sweet Charity has embodied my motto: “Work hard. Have fun.”

jStollenwerkGS2Joe received his B.A. in Drama from Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and his M.A. in English and M.Ed. from Xavier University in Cincinnati. His research interests include gender, race, and sexuality in 20th and 21st century musical and non-musical theatre and drama, and he is currently writing his dissertation, entitled “Women Writing Musicals 1965-1985: Second-Wave Feminism and the Post-Golden Age.”  Joe is the author of Today in History: Musicals.

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Rebecca in the House: Art in the post-electric world


Rebecca Hinton

Recently, I went to see Mr. Burns, a post-electric play, and I LOVED it. Word of warning, this is a dark play about a post-Apocalyptic America. The play has three acts: the first takes place right after the destruction, the second, seven years later, and the third seventy five years later. What I love about this play is that it grapples with a crucial question: how do we deal with ultimate uncertainty, and confronting the fact that we know and control comparatively little in this world? When the play starts the characters are discussing all of the rumors they have heard. In keeping with the theme of uncertainty, it isn’t clear what exactly happened, except that there are few survivors, there were massive fires, and the loss of electricity led to Chernobyl and Fukushima scale disasters in the country. It is frightening. As one of the characters says: how does nuclear power even work? How far does the radiation go? The news media is gone, and all families have been torn apart.

BurnsAct1To keep themselves sane and to keep dangerous and unhelpful speculations at bay, the characters try to reconstruct the plot of a Simpson’s episode. And, note, the Simpson’s are a family, something that these characters have lost in their own lives. In the first act there is some nascent play acting as the characters remember their favorite parts of the episode. Also, during the first and second acts, there are sudden interruptions of threats that can quickly escalate to violence, re-emphasizing the uncertainty of this new world.

The second act is an in-between stage, where the characters (and other play groups that we never see) are acting in front of an old burned out TV, and re-creating commercials. During this act they also argue over the nature of art, whether it is merely entertainment, RehIMG_9336or if art can accomplish far more than that.

The third act is my absolute favorite. Relying on pre-Apocalyptic forms of entertainment has ended. The TV and commercials are gone: this is theatre, with curtains, lights, costumes, ceremony, and gorgeous, haunting singing (seriously, I would purchase a recording of the music in this play). For instance, I particularly love the actors moving bolts of blue fabric to simulate water. Here, the play gets rich and multivalent for it taps into the roots of performance in a Jungian way. Mr. Burns (who, note, owned a nuclear power plant) and Sideshow Bob have merged as the classic villain, intent on killing Bart Simpson and his family. Furthermore, the profile of Mr. Burns’s mask is the same curved beak as a Carnival of Venice mask (worn before Lent, with the promise of Easter to come), which, in turn, is based on the Plague Doctor’s masks of old (appropriate for a character representing death and Burnsmaskdestruction). And now Bart Simpson, too, is not only Bart Simpson, but all scrappy, rebellious young heroes. The duel between Mr. Burns and Bart reminded me powerfully of the duel between Captain Hook and Peter Pan, or any other number of heroes and villains (and here a shout out to Scott Van Wye who plays a splendid Mr. Burns, and breaks out his Gilbert and Sullivan earlier in the play).

Lastly, I like that the play does not end on a happy note, but continues to honestly acknowledge grief, uncertainty, and struggle in the face of overwhelming circumstances. And the characters do this through theatre, through art. To paraphrase what they say in the play: ‘family can be destroyed, but love, even as a memory, cannot be destroyed.’ Like crocus in winter, a few signs of life and hope show through: a character with a pregnant belly, the Carnival silhouette that prefigures Easter, and dazzling, dazzling light, right behind the curtain.

Rebecca Hinton has lived in Bloomington for almost ten years. She works at the IU Art Museum, and loves attending IU Theater and IU Cinema. She enjoys writing and painting, and is also a bit of a costume jewelry addict, with no intentions of reforming any time soon.

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Musical Theatre: not for sissies

As IU Theatre’s production of Mr. Burns, a post- electric play continues its run this week in the Wells-Metz Theatre, first year MFA actors – Nicholas Jenkins and Tara Chiusano –
sat down to discuss the challenges of performing this landmark play-musical hybrid.

Mr. Burns was a New York smash hit in 2013, and established Anne Washburn as a leading American Playwright. Chiusano plays multiple roles in Mr. Burns, including a young woman attempting to play Lisa Simpson.

Nick Jenkins: What challenges have you encountered while working on Mr. Burns?


Tara Chiusano and Jason Craig West in Act II of Mr. Burns

Tara Chiusano: The rigor of the process. I couldn’t believe the energy and commitment of the BFA students. My background is in regional theater. In some ways, the professional world actually doesn’t push you as hard. Also, my passion was strictly to be an actor, so didn’t take dance and singing classes growing up. And there’s so much singing and dancing in Mr. Burns. I’ve had to catch up in a hurry! I really believe some of the 19-year-olds I’m working with are on the fast track to Broadway.

Has Mr. Burns changed the way you approach musical theater?

Yes. I have a new respect for the precision needed in musical theater. I actually did a number of musicals in Atlanta, before I came here. But I didn’t have a strong foundation on how to move really well on stage. And I’ve had to learn how to use my voice in a pop style. Ray (Fellman, BurnsIMG_9743music director) and Liza (Gennaro, choreographer) push you. You pretty much have to do it until you get it right.

I haven’t worked in that kind of detail, because you actually don’t have that much rehearsal in the professional world.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this show?

I hope that they’ll see the show as a testament to why we need theater. I hope they connect with the idea that our lives are pretty empty without art. I hope they connect with the concept of the play: When the cell phones, iPads, and electricity is all gone, and people are going rogue in the streets, we still need stories. They start telling stories, because they’re depressed and scared, and they need something to hold onto. They need to laugh. They need to have a moment of understanding with another human being. I hope the audience connects with the idea that theater will last as long as there are humans. We need it. Ultimately, the one irreplaceable career – believe it or not – is acting! So when people are like, “Well, why are you trying to get your MFA?” We can tell them that actors have an implicit importance to the human race – to tell stories and to help humans be humans.

Jenkins.NicholasNick Jenkins is a first-year MFA actor and a member of the 2015-16 IU Theatre marketing team. Watch for him in the upcoming production of Jean Anouilh’s ANTIGONE, opening in December, 2015.

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Mr. Burns, a post-electric play (explained… a bit)

Lucas.reuben2014This Thursday, October 22nd at 5:30pm, ART@IU and Theatre Circle present CONVERSATATIONS ON CRAFT (a pre-show lecture featuring members of the creative team of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play). Set Designer Ruben Lucas will be in attendance.

Here is a sneak preview of what is in store:

“The post-electric world of Mr. Burns presents a number of challenges when represented visually and physically onstage. This is a world were the population has decreased substantially due to the ravages of a virus, fires and radiation. The society is in a state of upheaval with the sudden and dramatic loss of friends, families and culture.


The survivors are doing their best to cope with this loss through the retelling of a unifying cultural television phenomenon. This loss, the loneliness felt by the survivors and the desire to hold onto the past are represented onstage by an environment that is open and expansive to further enhance the survivor’s limited population.

In addition, the physical remains of the electric world are present on stage in the form of an aging and decaying warehouse environment. Without the means of manufacturing, this society has put more value on the retelling of these episodes than tangible items . So much so, they are willing to die and kill for the words. This warehouse is devoid of all goods expected in our current consumerist society and takes on a greater role of holding this fragile society together as a location to perform these episodes. As the retelling of these stories are passed down over the generations they become skewed and the environment follows suit with skewed forms. The large, rigid and decaying structure of the warehouse looms over this world throughout as a ruin and reminder of what once was.”

What: Conversations on Craft
When : Thursday October 22nd at 5:30pm
Where: The Studio Theatre, 275 N. Jordan Avenue



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Hedda Gabler: the plight of a strong woman

Shared from Rebecca Hinton

At first glance, the character Hedda Gabler seems like an intriguing combination of Scarlett O’Hara and Yosemite Sam. The name of the play itself is a little odd, for she is married, and her legal name is now Hedda Tesman, no matter how often the male characters drawn to her coquettish ways like to ‘forget’ that little tidbit.

This is a really great Ibsen play that stays with you…I found myself puzzling over the facets of Hedda’s character not just the evening that I saw it, but well into the following day. Hedda has ambition and fire, and the staging of the play draws a direct line between Hedda and her father the general (Hedda is obsessed with his dueling pistols, and his portrait takes pride of place on stage). But, what can a woman who lives in the 1890s do when she has inherited her father’s wild and ambitious nature? She had reached the age when she could not postpone marriage any longer…what happens to Hedda is that she becomes a powder keg, finally bent upon the destruction of self and other.

Of course, in many parts of the world women now have more opportunities to follow their ambitions, but there is another aspect of the play that perhaps is even more relevant: Hedda isn’t particularly likeable, especially when compared to her friend Thea, or the sympathetic Nora, from his play A Doll’s House. Hedda is rash, rude, destructive, and a bully towards poor Thea (by the way she is also VERY funny). BUT, I had to think – would I find Hedda as abrasive if she were a man? The answer…no, not so much. Culturally, we still haven’t got our collective heads around the idea of strong women. Women still feel compelled to be pleasant and obliging in ways that would not even occur to many men. And, as the play ends, it is Thea, who is, of course, very pleasant, quiet and obliging, who is poised to inherit Hedda’s home and husband. GREAT PLAY.

RebeccaERebecca Hinton has lived in Bloomington for almost ten years. She works at the IU Art Museum, and loves attending IU Theater and IU Cinema. She enjoys writing and painting, and is also a bit of a costume jewelry addict, with no intentions of reforming any time soon.

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