If They Could See Him Now

Special Features   If They Could See Him Now Sweet Charity's Denis O'Hare adds another musical — and tax accountant — to his winning résumé.

Denis O'Hare in Sweet Charity
Denis O'Hare in Sweet Charity Photo by Paul Kolnik

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Before the 1966 Broadway production of Sweet Charity starring Gwen Verdon and the 1969 Hollywood movie starring Shirley MacLaine and the 1986 Broadway revival starring Debbie Allen and the 2005 re-revival starring Christina Applegate, there was a great 1957 motion picture called "Le Notti di Cabiria" ("Nights of Cabiria") starring Giulietta Masina as a huge-eyed prostitute-waif who gets a dirty deal from every man in her sad little existence and always comes up smiling. It was this movie, directed by Masina's husband, Federico Fellini, that served as the template for the 1966 Broadway blockbuster crafted for Gwen Verdon by her husband, director-choreographer Bob Fosse, in conjunction with Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields.

Denis O'Hare, an actor who can also sing — in truth, a marvelous actor, winner of a Tony Award for his Mason Marzac, the nerdy little financial advisor who falls hopelessly in love with his client, an out-of-the-closet superstar baseball player, in Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out — has been in none of the above Sweet Charity productions except the current one at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre. "Actually," O'Hare says one afternoon as the show is making its way to readiness, "I've never seen Sweet Charity in any form. I'm a virgin." One beat. "Just like the character." Two beats. "I mean, metaphorically."

But yes, he has seen the Fellini masterpiece. "I think I saw it back to back with [Fellini's] ‘La Strada.’ I saw those two movies and then passed out for a couple of days. With grief — overwhelming grief. What I remember of Masina as Cabiria survives in Charity — always with heartbroken hope."

Now about O'Hare the singer: "I've been in musicals. Not a lot, but a few." They include Cabaret and last year's Assassins, from which he copped a Tony nomination for his performance as Charles Guiteau, killer of President James A. Garfield. In Sweet Charity, O'Hare, as a heel named Oscar who's about to break Charity's heart all over again, delivers the title song — "the first half alone, the second half backed by an angelic chorus" — and has a duet in an elevator with Ms. Applegate, plus a courtship number that lyricist Fields and composer Coleman wrote for some other venue "and Cy [before his shocking, unforeseen death last November] imported into this show."

Oscar is nothing like Mason Marzac. And yet there's this: "He's a tax accountant. My second tax accountant. Well, I guess Mason was more of a money manager. But just think of it. I can do The Producers next. From Mason to Oscar to Leo Bloom. It's a step up, anyway. Whenever I do 'Law & Order,' I'm always the murderer. My folks like it better when I'm singing and not killing people."