CHESTERFIELD: Review of Operatic Society’s production of Sweet Charity

The Fandango dancers in Sweet Charity, performed by Chesterfield Operatic Society
The Fandango dancers in Sweet Charity, performed by Chesterfield Operatic Society
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It’s not the most crowd-pulling of musicals, as evidenced by the unusual number of empty seats on the first night. The story is thin and episodic, and it falls outside the genre’s tradition by not having a happy ending. But Sweet Charity is a show which allows Chesterfield Operatics to play to their considerable strengths.

It’s not the most crowd-pulling of musicals, as evidenced by the unusual number of empty seats on the first night. The story is thin and episodic, and it falls outside the genre’s tradition by not having a happy ending. But Sweet Charity is a show which allows Chesterfield Operatics to play to their considerable strengths.

Dancing has been near the top of that list for as long as their regular fans can remember, and it’s very much a dancers’ show. The line-up of dance-hall girls includes some of the company’s top hoofers; Suzanne Higgins (formerly Dring) and Paula Wilson are familiar faces, and Lucy Telfer, Holly Sumpton and Roseanne Sanderson represent the new generation. Julie Metcalfe and Sarah Morrell, both accomplished dancers, flex their acting muscles as well, playing two hostesses a little past their sell-by.

There’s plenty for the men to do too. There are cameo roles, each with a big musical number as well as a distinctive character, for Andrew Davie as Herman the ebullient dance-hall manager, Mike Brobbin as poseur ageing movie star Vittorio Vidal and Ian Jones as flamboyant hippy evangelist Daddy Brubeck, all making a welcome return after an absence from the stage.

Andy Moore is in splendid comic form as Woody Allen-like Oscar, the man with whom Charity almost finds her dream of happily-ever-after.

The songs are largely unmemorable, but director Phil Simcox and choreographer Paula Wilson add pzazz to the best known: raunchy Hey Big Spender, colourful flower-power Rhythm of Life and high-octane If My Friends Could See Me Now.

Shabby sets and glittering (often literally) costumes illustrate the two sides of Charity’s life: the seedy reality and the glitzy façade. And as Charity herself, the show’s pivot and heart, Alison Doram comes of age as a leading lady.

She captures the spirit of the girl who just wants to be loved: worldly wise in one way, but in others naïve, vulnerable and easily duped, and above all sweet-natured and relentlessly optimistic. Almost constantly on stage from beginning to end, she invests the role with huge amounts of energy, sings and dances up a storm and shows a flair for comedy.

Message to all those people who left seats empty: there’s still time. It’s at the Pomegranate all week, with a matinee on Saturday.

LYNNE PATRICK