Sweet Charity

Verity Hunt Ballard_Sweet Charity_Jeff BusbyDean Bryant’s brilliant combination of smoke and mirrors, and smoking hot talent, make an intoxicating blend in this sizzling new, much awarded, production of Cy Coleman’s popular musical which had its Canberra premiere in the Canberra Theatre Centre’s Playhouse on Wednesday 11 February.

Thanks to clever design by Owen Phillips (set) and Tim Chappel (costumes) the hard working ensemble rarely leave the stage as they effortlessly change characters and costumes to transport the audience through seedy dance halls, swanky hotels, claustrophobic lifts, even ferris wheels, to tell the story of a damaged, but never daunted, dance hall hostess, Charity Hope Valentine, who enthusiastically subscribes to the religion of love.

Bryant’s inspired concept transports the musical into the present day without losing any of the integrity of the original production. Iconic set pieces like The Rhythm of Life and I’m a Brass Band receive surprising make-overs, enhanced by Andrew Hallsworth’s imaginative, frenetic choreography which pays tribute to Bob Fosse’s original, especially in show-stopping Rich Man’s Frug.

The role of Charity Hope Valentine was a career defining role for Nancye Hayes in the original Australian production. Nearly 50 years later, it will be the same for Verity Hunt- Ballard whose performance is nothing short of awe-inspiring. Hunt-Ballard is a true clown, able to effortlessly move from over-the-top physical comedy to heart-breaking pathos. She is also a terrific dancer and an out-standing singer. Her Charity is a unique creation and a performance to be relished.

She receives terrific support from a chameleon cast, especially Martin Crewes, outstanding as Charity’s three lovers, the reticent Charlie, the suave Vittorio, and the hopelessly shy Oscar. Deborah Krizak is quite wonderful as the hard-boiled Nickie and the spoiled, demanding, Ursula, and even musical director, Andrew Worboys, has a scene stealing moment as the pianist who ‘likes to cry at weddings’. If you see only one show this year, make sure it’s Sweet Charity.

Sweet Charity plays at the Canberra Theatre Centre until 22nd February, before touring to Arts Centre Melbourne (25 February – 7 March), and Illawarra Performing Arts Centre, Wollongong (11 – 15 March).

Image: Verity Hunt Ballard in Sweet Charity – photo by Jeff Busby 

Review: Bill Stephens