Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Sweet Charity, an energetic and high-spirited performance by Nottingham Playhouse. Full of exciting and passionate choreography and beautifully constructed sets that combine with the vibrant energy the actors fill the audience with, it creates a phenomenal performance.
Originally a Broadway musical, it follows the life of Charity, a kind woman stuck as a taxi dancer at the Fandango Ballroom, who seems to get nothing but misfortune in the affairs of love and life. Nevertheless, Charity becomes determined to get out and seize the life she wants.
At the beginning, I think that the audience were really drawn in by the way the first piece of music was played from behind the mesh curtain. It helped draw the whole audience in so they were immersed in the performance almost from the minute it started. As well as this, it meant that the live orchestra got the credit and acknowledgement they well deserved at the start, as although the music was spectacular and lively, with the orchestra cleverly disguised in the set as to not draw attention away from the play, it pushed them more to the side. But their entrance at the start gave them their chance to shine too!
The sets in the play gave of a genuine feel of America with exceptional detail and authenticity. It really helped the audience get into the feel and genre of the play and to also explore the magical word of Sweet Charity. The way so many sets had been incorporated into the play was very clever and effective. But, the moves between sets could take some time and with actors from scenes helping out, it did pull the audience slightly out of the performance and damage the wonderful world they had created…
I would also say that one area which seemed to throw the audience off slightly was the ending. The sudden change in dynamic and energy appeared quite confusing, as some wondered if there was, or wanted there to be, another scene to follow. However, there were many high aspects of the performance, like the way the choreography and music kept absolutely on top of the enthusiasm and movement on stage, with perfectly timed lighting adding to it and guiding the audience gently into different aura.
The effort from the actors over all was incredible, although, a few especially stood out; including Rebecca Trehearn, whose performance as Charity I think grabbed everyone’s heart and who also gave the role such life and spirit, whether in dance, singing or speech. Also, Amy Richardson (Nickie- Charity’s best friend) whose character is hard not to love and delivery of lines and singing was incredible (notably stood out in the song ‘Big Spender’). And lastly, Shaq Taylor who played the role of Daddy Brubeck (in the Rhythm of Life Church) and took preaching to a whole new level!
Overall, a production I would thoroughly recommend, easily suited to secondary school and above.
I really enjoyed watching Sweet Charity because it had an interesting and unexpected plotline. I also enjoyed the well-known songs embedded into the show. The whole audience was humming along to the music (I was singing) and tapping their feet. The good thing about having well known songs in the play was that people can draw upon personal memory’s and relate to the songs, which makes the play more personal.
Their acting in the show was also impeccable, there were very few mistakes and they were covered tremendously. We laughed with the characters, cried with them and got angry with them. The characters were flawlessly played and the emotion was raw and real. I liked travelling through the story with the character, as if we were in their lives rather than sitting in the audience. I also enjoyed how relatable the characters were, for example every time Nicki made a sarcastic comment I would find myself laughing as it perfectly represented me and what I say on a regular basis.
The costumes were perfectly styled as they fitted the characters personality perfectly. They were immaculately sewn and there was no wardrobe malfunctions. The costume changes were quick and seamless (excuse the pun) and the costumes were faultless. From the head to toe the look was fitted and ready for the production.
The whole production was a real experience. It felt like I had been sitting somewhere else rather than the playhouse audience. The room faded away and all I could focus on was the play. I was singing along to all the songs, picking up the dance moves and admiring the costumes. The whole audience was basically in a trance.
The dances were choreographed tremendously and the dancers really understood the moves.
Thank you very much for taking the time to read my review.
Sweet Charity (Diary Entry) by Ella O’Brien
They were long and black. At dusk they would be built up relentlessly, obsessively, and by dawn would drip into the sink. Vermillion lips stained with the envy as my eyes locked onto the beauty of the superstars on the wall. People with real success were plastered on the peeling walls. If you studied the beaming faces plastered on the wall long enough, it’s almost as if the smiles are twisted into a smirk, mocking us as we are trapped in the cycle of failure as dance hall hostesses. I pursed my mouth together and once again was transfixed on the mirror.
A dab of blush here…
A touch of cerulean shadow there…
I’ve been here 8 years. ‘Only temporary, not forever,’ is my feeble attempt to persuade me that what I’m doing here is genuinely worth my time. After putting my vivid aesthetic and assortment of jewellery together, I step into the sickening sound of the same songs that are played endlessly.
My feet tremble in time to the music due to the vibrations rippling along the ground. Something feels different tonight. As if the aura has shifted, once excitable and clear, now completely enigmatic. As if somebody had laced the air with uncertainty. As if something was going to change. I look around, squinting at the lights in a party of their own, colours of purple, red, blue and yellow.
I shift my focus to the rest of the girls, as smoke erupts from most of their lips coated with chap-stick. These girls and I – we were a community, a family. A home away from home. I am beckoned over, consequently I follow. I’m greeted with empty smiles that are used to strengthen the façade we all hide behind. Because here, at Fandango Ballroom in New York, being yourself is against the rules.
Nobody wants a girl with flaws in her personality.
The night progresses quickly, and soon enough the first customer arrives. He’s a regular, an old, bulbous snake who feeds his prey with mouthfuls of misogyny. His beady, black, raven eyes study each and every one of us, one by one.
He excitably selects his girl.
She rises from her cushioned booth like valour’s minion and slowly trails behind her customer. And that’s it. We forget about her. It’s our job to move on and serve.
And now, it’s a job I plan to quit.
How do I put into words how amazing Sweet Charity was?
It makes you laugh, at times it makes you want to cry. The stage sets were amazing and contained a lot of detail. The actors were excellent and remained in character at all times during the show.
The story is set in New York during the 1960’s and the play has quite a few fantastic, incredible and passionate musical numbers. Sweet Charity is about a woman called Charity who is determined to improve both her life and her love life.
The sound and lighting were amazing. A very fine orchestra were used instead of a backing tracks, which gave the performance an improved quality of sound and greater flexibility for keeping in time.
Overall I think it is a pretty amazing play. However, there are a lot of sexual references, so parents may want to bear this mind if they are going to take a child under 15 years of age.
In my opinion, the ability of the actors and actresses to remain in character allowed me to believe I was watching a real story unfold in front of me.
Q&A for Sweet Charity – was it a hit?
How do you think the design team contributed to the piece as a whole?
The adaptable set helped to create the different moods of each scene. For example, the booths that revolved into position contributed to the idea that the ‘dance hall hostess’ job was very repetitive, therefore the booths represented how they did the same thing every night and couldn’t escape the cycle. This made the audience sympathise with the girls because they felt they couldn’t do anything else with their lives (demonstrated in the musical number “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”) and were stuck in an environment where there was a lack of respect and professionalism, thus creating a melancholic tone to the dance hall scenes.
Did you think the ensemble helped to develop the atmosphere during the performance?
I definitely did. Having a moderately-sized cast meant there was much more going on in each scene and the audience had plenty to look at. This meant that the play was full of life and the audience were never given the opportunity to lose interest as there was always something happening between the characters without a hint of foreshadowing a later moment in the play, which kept the audience engaged and engrossed in each character and their involvement to the main storyline. Correspondingly, Fellini hinted that the hostess profession could impact on a girl’s romantic relations and using the character of Rosie (portrayed by Sinead Long), went on to say that she would be working there for no more than couple of weeks as she was getting married shortly, but as the show progresses, she is seen to still be working there months later, with no more talks of a fiancé.
How did the lighting department emphasise the tone of each scene?
The changes in lighting emphasised the changes in emotion, without being too overpowering. For example, the bright yellow-toned lights were used during outdoor scenes to show the bustling environment of New York City by highlighting every individual on the stage.
Darker, more purple-toned lights were used to set the scene of the dance hall and this contributed to the idea that they were secret and kept in the dark as to not draw attention. Using the lighting to show attitudes and emotions was effective in giving a clear idea of what could be expected of the scene to come.
I don’t think that there could have been a more perfect play to come back to critics circle.
Sweet Charity is a well-loved classic that has you laughing throughout and breaking into rapturous applause after every number.
The live band on stage, on a raised platform, makes it feel like the band were a part of the set, yet still adds to the musical element. Making the platform look like the New York skyline, managed to help them blend into the background. It also tied in with the moving set on the main stage that made it perfectly clear where we were throughout. The only criticism of the set was the distracting statues descending from the ceiling during one scene during the first half.
Within the first five minutes of the play we are shown the variety of styles available during the ‘flower power’ era. You could almost tell what everyone did as a profession, from their style of clothing.
The use of different props really helped to tie the costume and location together and let us know what the energy of the scene is meant to be.
Everybody sang and danced beautifully together, complimenting each other, yet still being individuals within it. The timing was unbelievable and the voices blended together seamlessly. Even if you were not familiar with the musical, the songs are instantly recognizable and tied the story together.
Rebecca Trehearn makes us see Charity as a naive young woman who thinks she needs a man to help her get ahead of life and fully deserved the standing ovation she received at the end.
Marc Elliot played Oscar and fully made us believe he was painfully shy and socially awkward.
The acting skills of everyone else was such that I didn’t realize that they were playing multiple rolls and I will never understand how they kept the high energy dancing throughout the entire play.
In conclusion, I think you should tell your friends to “go and see it now.” (insert – jazz hands).
A timelapse of Lucy Wakefield creating an illustrative review:
What is needed for a musical to be a musical?
The official definition of a musical is a genre of drama in which singing, and dancing play an essential part. So, what do I look for in a musical?
Personally, I think a live band is a key feature of a musical because the audience feel as if they are really in the time and setting of the performance compared to backing tracks which don’t draw an audience in as much and don’t really help the magic of musicals come alive. The band were placed high above the cast in a New York City skyline so that they were in clear view of the audience and could be part of the of New York and its surroundings. How many songs (look this up) memorable songs. Throughout the show only three of the eighteen songs stood out to me and kept as a consistent tune in my head e.g. “Big spender,” “Rhythm of Life” and “I Love to Cry at Weddings”. However, that may have been because I had already heard the songs once or twice or that I just liked them. But I never stopped to think about the other 15 songs and their whereabouts in the plot line. To me they just seemed pointless.
As well as that, I think that acting can play a great part in a musical without huge gestures or exciting facial expressions a show just wouldn’t be a show.
A consistent plot line can be useful in a musical which in the case of Sweet Charity was not the case. Unless the playwriter was trying to portray how ditzy the character was in the plot line. I don’t think it worked. As an audience member, I felt myself incredibly confused on where the story was going as at every bend it would go the other way creating quite a dull story line. The plot just felt like a winding road that would lead to nowhere which it didn’t. However, I do think the director managed to transform it into a fantastic stylised musical.
Another key element is the ensemble the way they work together to transform scenes is phenomenal. Each member of an ensemble brings their own character to a performance creating wonderful scenes for an audience to enjoy.
As a member of the audience, I found the time period quite confusing. At some points you’d think the show was set in the 20s/30s when scenes in musicals such as Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Boyfriend were shown but then at times the actors would be wearing clothes worn in the modern day which is a complete variation to the 20s style flapper dresses that were also worn.
What is the wow factor? That is a question I repeatedly ask myself. Wicked has the flying in Defying Gravity, Miss Saigon has the release of the helicopter, Phantom of the Opera has the entrance of the boat in the mist but Sweet Charity? Did one even exist? If I was to pick a wow factor I would choose the Rhythm of Life when the actors, make their first real connection with the audience by coming into the auditorium but is that the same sort of thing?
Personally, I think a strong cast is one of the main factors in a musical. I loved the way that Rebecca Trehearn and Marc Elliot displayed their characters well but overall, I think the strongest actress was Cindy Belliot because throughout the show I found myself watching her as she kept A huge grin on her face and brought her character to life.
In conclusion, I do think it was a successful musical because it gave the audience an opportunity to see a musical that hadn’t be done professionally for a while. However, I found it incredibly similar to other musicals at times, such as Miss Saigon and Thoroughly Modern Millie. I also think that I would recommend others to go see the musical if they haven’t seen it before but for me I thought that it dragged on for too long and that the ending was a really pointless ending that didn’t end properly. There was no huge musical number just a solo song and that was it. In the future, the playhouse should try some other musical but make them shorter or add more intervals so that the audience don’t start to count down until it ends. Overall, for their first professional musical in a while it was a job well done.