Denise Van Outen shone in this revival of a classic Broadway musical, Sweet Charity (1966), following the fortunes of the gullible Charity Hope Valentine, encountering the series of men in her life, who offer so little and give even less.
From the opening notes of Cy Coleman’s score, the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra propelled us right into the action with a rousing and ballsy Overture, topped and tailed with the standard ‘Big Spender’. This jaunty unfolding, punctuated by raspy snare drums and brash horn crescendos brimmed with confident promise and toe-tapping razzmatazz. The versatility of the orchestra played a big element in the storytelling, weaving music and sound-effects throughout the narrative to build the drama with finesse and zeal.
Denise Van Outen possessed the stage as Charity, giving a delicious performance which flitted effortlessly between soft-hearted and salty. Her singing tone and diction carried an effervescent quality, as she frolicked through ‘You Should See Yourself’ and ‘If My Friends Could See Me Now’ with unbounded optimism. Michael Xavier delivered a standout performance, displaying versatility as a character actor – taking on the roles of the three heartbreakers who variously stumble onto Charity’s path. In his first brief appearance as Charlie, he nailed the depiction of an unprincipled hustler, prowling around while dragging nonchalantly on a cigarette. As Vittorio Vidal, he played the comic lothario, pulsing with insincere charm as his eyebrows undulated like lascivious caterpillars. His final role as the gawky and seemingly harmless Oscar is defined by the claustrophobic scene where he first meets Charity, and is all ambling awkwardness.
This production benefits from great performances all round. Kimberly Walsh inhabits the role of Nickie with dark relish – full of sharp retorts and deadpan cynicism, forming a harmonious alliance with the enchanting Kerry Ellis as Helene. Rodney Earl Clark as Big Daddy Brubeck governs the scene in the rendition of ‘The Rhythm Of Life’, anointing his swooning followers with his questionable philosophy, while Michael Simkins as Herman communicates the portrait of a once-debonair individual as he harries the girls into action in his sleazy establishment.
The choreography is slick and stylish and the Arts Ed Ensemble dazzled with rigorous dance sequences, paying homage to the dramatic Bob Fosse aesthetic, with feline body angles, morphing shapes and pointed poses. The Ensemble also contributed to the flawless transitions between scenes, shifting and positioning furniture (including a chaise longue at one point) with balletic poise. The minimal props and subtle lighting were applied inventively to convey a vivid sense of place. Sweet Charity in Concert is a zesty, big-impact production.
- Performances until Saturday 22 August (matinee and evening)
- Cadogan Hall