“We don’t dance. We defend ourselves to music”
Last night’s trip to Sweet Charity at the Theatre Royal Haymarket (with Aunty Jean, for my birthday treat!) actually marks the first time that I have seen a show that has transferred from a small venue into the West End in both of its incarnations. My original review can be read here about Charity Hope Valentine’s romantic misadventures and her continued search for her dream man in the face of constant setbacks and dastardly lotharios, and much of what I loved about it then holds true now as it is still as excellent a show.
Little has actually been changed about the production, everything is just a bit bigger really and the transitions a lot smoother, the only real difference was the fairground scene with Charity and Oscar and her vertigo where they make use of the more advanced facilities to sit on a suspended seat. Where the production does benefit from the transfer though is in the extra room for the choreography, Rich Man’s Frug and I’m A Brass Band in particular both luxuriate in the additional space offered by the Theatre Royal and Stephen Mears’ superb choreography has unfurled beautifully, maintaining the huge level of energy and vitality it pushes into the show. This is probably best exemplified in Hey, Big Spender, such a different number to the familiar Shirley Bassey version, the girls at the club sprawl over high stools, selling their wares half-heartedly with deliciously bored expressions, it is abundantly clear that this is no glamorous life and one can immediately see why Charity is so keen to escape.
The cast is largely intact from the Menier production, all the principals remain the same but there’s been a couple of changes in the ensemble: Kenneth Avery-Clark, Matthew Barrow, Alexis Owen Hobbs Laura Scott and Joanna Goodwin (recently in Once Upon a Time at the Adelphi) have now been added, replacing a few originals, but the change has been done seamlessly and everyone was nicely, tightly drilled. I have to mention Annalisa Rossi’s scene-stealingly good Carmen though, she is hysterical with every single line as a stroppy dancer and her final dance with Herman is just brilliant.
All of the lead performances were as good as I recalled, Mark Umbers’ beautifully natural voice expanded to fill the theatre most impressively, Josefina Gabrielle continued to make me fall in love with her, I could just watch her dance and sing for days and Tiffany Graves continues to give a strong performance, displaying great chemistry with both Gabrielle and Outhwaite, really selling numbers like Baby Dream Your Dream and There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This with warmth behind the bawdy exterior.
As for Tamzin Outhwaite, she continues to impress with her ever-hopeful Charity, never letting the mask of her smile drop until the final touching breakdown. Her singing and dancing fills the stage effortlessly and I hope we get more opportunities to see this lighter side of her in whatever she chooses to do next, she is really is such an engaging and charming performer. She is reportedly suffering from bronchitis and although one would not have known it at all from her performance, she did look absolutely shattered at the curtain call so I really hope she allows herself sufficient recovery time in order to be fully fit for the run (we saw the last preview, press night is on the 4th so I guess she’s wanted to continue in order to garner the good publicity conducive to an extended run).
So if you were not lucky enough to see this at the Menier, I can heartily recommend it to you now. Full of exuberant performances, stunning choreography and a bagful of truly great tunes, this show really will guarantee you fun, laughs and such a good time.