Producer Barry Weissler opened the presentation by remembering composer Coleman, who died on Nov. 18, 2004, before rehearsals of the show began. The staging will be dedicated to the songwriter. Then, after a few more introductory words from director Walter Bobbie, the assembled crowd heard the opening vamp of "Big Spender" — the first of three songs performed.
The other two numbers featured the show's two stars, Christina Applegate, who plays the lovelorn, goodhearted title character, a "dancer" in a so-called "tango palace," and Denis O'Hare, who is Oscar, the nervous everyman she falls for. The two performed Simon's "Elevator Scene," in which Charity and Oscar get stuck in a lift. This led to the duet "I'm the Bravest Individual." Finally, came the signature production number "I'm a Brass Band," featuring nearly the entire ensemble.
"I thought it was important to look at the material as if I'd never seen before," Bobbie said of the project he's been working on for nearly three years. "When they came to me with the show, I said, 'I need to talk to Cy Coleman and Neil Simon first to see if they're willing to go with that.' They said yes. The re-examination of the material really began from the inside out. We looked at the story being told, the dramaturgy of the piece. And as we did, some of the show was reimagined. We found a different way to tell it."
Among the notable changes in this incarnation are the addition of two Coleman-Fields numbers. One, "A Good Impression," is a new solo tune for Oscar.
"It comes after 'Rhythm of Life,'" O'Hare told Playbill.com. "They're both laughing and flush and he wants to go on another date with her and he is basically trying to say to her, 'I really like you' and he can't quite get it out." O'Hare said that at time of Coleman's death, the composer had recorded the song, and then the show's musical director transcribed it and faxed it to Cy. "Cy said, 'You know, it's almost all right. A couple notes are wrong here and there. We'll go over it on Monday.' That was before the weekend. He died on Thursday."
The other new melody, "If There Were More People," replaces the traditional 11 o'clock number, "I Love to Cry at Weddings," which is sung by Charity's gruff but lovable boss Herman (played by Ernie Sabella). Bobbie said "If There Were More People" was originally written for a show called Eleanor (about Mrs. Roosevelt).
"There was something about 'I Love to Cry at Weddings,'" Bobbie explained. "In some way, once you've said 'I Love to Cry at Weddings,' you've said everything there is to say about that moment. At that point in the story, I think we're more invested in Charity and Oscar then we are in this beloved character, Herman. It seemed to be an interruption in the narrative. I feel the story goes some place that's false to me. Whether we're right or wrong, who knows? But for right now, we're putting in a new song there about the girls saying goodbye to Charity."
Bobbie indicated that the choice of song could be altered again during the tryout period.
As for other changes, several members of the team hinted at a tonal shift in the musical's ending. (Spoiler alert!) In past productions, Oscar abandons Charity, leaving her heartbroken and once again alone at the story's close. "It ends similarly," said O'Hare. "They break up. The relationship does not move forward. She's left on her own. And she finds a way to move forward in her life. She decides to be her own person. It's similar in tone, but she makes a bigger decision in this version. She says, 'I'm tired of this. I'm going to be on my own, be my own person.'"
A new look at Charity was imperative to Bobbie "The thing to reexamine is Charity: who she is, what she wants and where she's going," the director said. "I wanted the story to be an exploration of a woman whose life is lived at two o'clock in the morning [who becomes] a woman whose life is lived at two o'clock in the afternoon: The journey of this woman who's going from a life in the dark into the light. How could you sing the song 'Where Am I Going?' and not look at this woman as someone who was seriously looking for something else?"
As for the woman playing Charity herself, Christina Applegate sees her character as someone she can understand quite well. "I can relate to who she is and what she wants and where her pain sits," said Applegate, who is making her Broadway debut in the show. "And how hopeful she is, and how she wants everything to be good — and sometimes it's not. And how trusting she is. All of those qualities are so relatable to me that I'm like a raw nerve when working on this. She just breaks my heart."
Sweet Charity will debut in Minneapolis Feb. 8-20, then move on to Chicago Feb. 23-March 13 and Boston March 18-27 before reaching Broadway April 4 for an April 21 opening.