“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.”
Charity 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