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Sweet Charity


writers' theatre
Sweet Charity

Music by Cy Coleman

Lyrics by Dorothy Fields

Directed by Michael Halberstam

Music Direction by Doug Peck

Choreographed by Jessica Redish

At Writers’ Theatre, Glencoe

Writers’ Theatre’s Sweet Charity a near miss

Since the material is not lofty, Sweet Charity demands a super talent to plays Charity Hope. That person must be a genuine “triple threat” and this production’s star, Tiffany Topol has two of the three: she acts fine, she dances terrifically but her singing is weak at best.  While Topol sure has the empathetic charm, the role demands a singer who can convey the emotional ups and downs of her character. Still, Topol gives Charity everything and that is considerable.

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Sweet Charity, a 1966 Tony Award winning musical conceived, directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse, was a star vehicle for Gwen Verdon and the 1969 film helped Shirley MacLaine’s career. In order for Sweet Charity to work, we must empathize and love Charity Hope Valentine, the gullible dance hall hostess. Here we sure do.

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Sweet Charity is a tender, poignant, often humorous (book by Neil Simon) adventures of Charity—a not-too bright dance hall hostess who’s gullible and guileless when it comes to men. She simply tries too hard to find ‘Mr. Right.’ She only sees the ‘good’ in worthless guys. Her friends at the Fandango Ballroom, Helene (Ericka Mac) and Nickie (Karen Burthwright) try to wise her up but to no avail. Charity always ends up giving her heart and dreams to some louse. We see her bumbling through one insincere guy after another until she meets Oscar (Jerrod Zimmerman) after a star-struck night with a European  film star, Vittorio (Jeff Parker).

Neil Simon’s book contains much of his wit and biting humor and Dorothy Fields’ lyrics are honest and in character for new Yorkers. But Sweet Charity’s appeal rests with Cy Coleman’s bouncy, jazzy and very 60’s score written to offer Bob Fosse a vehicle to create some of the finest and most sophisticated choreography of a Broadway musical every seen on stage. Jessica Redish using every inch of the Writers’ stage with her reduced cast to infuse a “Fosse style” look and feel to the show. From the sensual “Big Spender,” we see the distinct hand and arm movements with the crunched body movement that became Fosse trademarks.

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“If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Tiffany Topol exudes some charm but the number lacks pizazz.   The girls at the Fandango Club, Helene, Nickie and Charity sing and dance their desire the “There’s Gotta Be Something Better’ than working as lap dancers in a souring Latin dance tempo anthem. Erick Mac, Karen Burthwright and Tiffany Topol were terrific in this spirited number. We see Jerrod Zimmerman deftly plays a louse, do a hilarious turn as a claustrophobic man caught in an elevator; Zimmerman is the sincere neurotic nerd. He and Topol deliver laughs in “I’m the Bravest Individual.”

Act two opens with an ode to the 60’s hippie movement with “The Rhythm of Life” a satirical jab at quasi-religious cults with rock music deftly led by James Earl Jones II as Daddy Brubeck. “I’m a Brass Band” is another Fosse gem with Charity and the boys mimicking a marching band. The witty “I Love to Cry at Weddings” plants Oscar  with reasons to question his love for Charity. We see Charity’s strength and determination in the final scenes. We wish her well.

The staging of a full-blown Broadway musical on the intimate thrust stage at Writers’ Theatre is a major accomplishment allowing  terrific dance and movement to give the illusion of a larger production. The  five member orchestra, using Doug Peck’s orchestrations, sounded fine giving the jazz-infused Coleman score a worthy sound. This entertaining show is worth seeing.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

Date Reviewed: January 31, 2013

For more info checkout the Sweet Charity page at

At Writers’ Theatre,  325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe, IL, call 847-242-6000,, tickets 35 – $75, Tuesdays & Wednesdays at 7:30 pm, select Wednesday matinees at 2 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 4 and 8 pm, Sundays at 2 and 6 pm, running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes with intermission, through March 31, 2013


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