Neil Simon's Tony nominated classic, Sweet Charity, is the quintessential tale of a young woman trying to find love and running into the wrong guys in the process. We've all been there. Now playing through October 28th at the beautiful John W. Engeman Theatre in Northport, Long Island, this production proves that a timely tale never truly gets old.
Leading the cast is Broadway vet Sarrah Strimel (Catch Me If You Can, Rock Of Ages) who wonderfully portrayed our heroine, Charity Hope Valentine. Her voice was beautiful as she was part of eleven of the fourteen numbers of this two act musical. Her performances of "You Should See Yourself", "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and "Where Am I Going?" were all well received by the nearly sold out audience. However, Ms. Strimel could have added a little more schtick to her Charity, but that might have been my preconception.
Kudos to Jamie LaVerdiere for taking on three roles in this production. His first role was Charlie, Charity's moocher boyfriend, we meet briefly in the beginning of the show. He then portrays Vittorio, a womanizing Italian movie star that Charity encounters. He shined, however, as Oscar, a C.P.A. who falls for Charity. His charm and comedy brought many laughs. In one scene, Charity and Oscar are unexpectedly trapped in an elevator. Oscar is claustrophobic and he was trying to convince Charity, who is calm, that he is fine. Of course, he's doing this moving about rapidly, jumping on the railings, and shortened of breath. Ms. Strimel and Mr. LaVerdiere were indeed an adorable and relatable couple.
Also fun to watch were Lisa Karlin and Debra Walton as Nickie and Helene, respectively. Nickie and Helene are Charity's best friends and co-workers at the Fan-Dango Ballroom where they are Hostesses/Dancers. They were a fantastic team and their voices and personalities complimented each other very well. Their rendition of "Baby Dream Your Dream" was a standout number. Additionally, in Act One, they perform "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" with Charity pondering careers beyond dancing which was well received.
As good as everyone was, I got at several points where it seemed like the cast was simply going through the motions; very little emotion and concentration on "what's next". In a fifteen-person cast, I expected more of that "punch" that I usually get from the Engeman productions.
The set, by Kevin Judge, was minimal, yet effective, for the Engeman's high standards. An impressive skyline of New York City, complete with occasionally flickering lights for windows, aligned the back of the stage for the entire show. For the dressing room at the Fan-Dango Ballroom, they had a bench and moved a few pieces of the back of the stage for mirrors and rolled out lockers. For Vittorio's apartment, they had a bed/nightstand set. There was a few big dance numbers (this is a Bob Fosse piece, after all) so the stage was pretty much clear for a good portion of the show.
John Davenport did an excellent job with the costumes. Charity had a little black dress and periodically had on different jackets. One piece that stood out was a beautiful white feather trimmed floor length dress worn by Ursula, Vittorio's mistress portrayed by Lisa Donmall-Reeve. Another highlight was at the beginning of act two where Charity and Oscar encountered the parishioners of the Rhythm of Life Church, a group of hippies. They were donned with headbands, braids, and psychedelic clothes.
Sweet Charity at The John W. Engeman Theatre of Northport, Long Island, is certainly a hit in a fantastic season. This production, though not the strongest of material, boasts a wonderful cast and every theatre patron should see this classic piece.