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There’s No Welfare to Be Found in WaterTower Theatre’s Sweet Charity

There's gotta be something better than this.
By Jessica Fritsche |
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WaterTower Theatre closes out its 2014-2015 season with Neil Simon’s Sweet Charity, a musical that is neither particularly sweet or charitable when it comes to its misogynistic portrayal of a woman’s worth only being measured by the value she holds for a man. Unfortunately, director Michael Serrecchia and a mostly ill-suited cast do little to temper Simon’s problematic theme in this lackluster production.

Whitney Hennen’s Charity Hope Valentine is too empty, losing some of the optimistic charm that tempers the taxi dancer’s hard luck in life and her propensity to love all the wrong men. Hennen is a seasoned dancer with all the right moves, but her vocals are pitchy, her delivery lacks confidence, and her breath support is almost nil. It’s a distraction to hear the heroine breathing heavily on the mic like she just ran a 5K. She has a handful of truly great comedic moments throughout, but overall this is a role that does Hennen no favors.

Luke Longacre pulls triple duty as Charity’s good-for-nothing beau Charlie; her celebrity crush, B-movie actor Vittorio Vidal; and her neurotic love interest, Oscar Lindquist. Thanks to the magic of hair and makeup, along with Longacre’s own acting chops, the transformation is enough to make you blink twice and look back at your program to confirm that yes, it’s really the same guy. Longacre has no trouble bringing the laughs, and he meshes well with Hennen in their scenes.

Kia Boyer and Lindsay Longacre shine as Nickie and Helene, two of Charity’s outspoken coworkers at the Fandango. Boyer’s Nickie is full of no-nonsense sass with a soft spot for Charity, while Longacre’s Helene is deliciously catty and bitter. The rest of the Fandango dancers range from moderately fun to totally frumpy, and when they perform “Big Spender,” the drowsy energy makes you wonder if they’ve ever sold a dance or if they just exist to prop up the bar.

Sign me up for the reimagined version of the show that features no one but Boyer, Longacre, and the fabulous-but-underused Brian Hathaway singing every single number. Hathaway’s “I Love to Cry at Weddings” stole the show, unfortunately coming too late in the production to do more than inject a death rattle of fun before the curtain.

Many of the numbers feel like they don’t even fill the WaterTower’s small stage thanks to an extremely lean cast. “Rich Man’s Frug,” an iconic bit of Fosse dance magic, is anemic with so few players (though it’s hard not to at least appreciate the on-point ponytail choreography). The only piece in the show that came close to the right amount of full-tilt energy was “The Rhythm of Life,” with Daddy Brubeck, played by ensemble member Clinton Greenspan, leading the hippy-dippy jazz church. Nickie and Helene have it right—there’s gotta be something better than this.

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