The world got its first taste of star Christina Applegate's Charity on Feb. 8, when the Broadway-bound revival of the classic musical Sweet Charity arrived in Minneapolis. Regional reviews for the production were mixed, but encouraging. The cast and crew will further hone their act during the Feb. 23-March 13 Windy City stay, before hustling off to Boston's Colonial Theatre March 18-27.
The Walter Bobbie-directed production will arrive at Broadway's Al Hirschfeld Theatre on April 4.
Sweet Charity is a quirky, romantic, urban musical comedy about a dance hall hostess with a heart of gold. It includes such songs like "Big Spender," "If My Friends Could See Me Now," "Where Am I Going?" and "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This." The Neil Simon-Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields show from 1966 was a triumph for creator-director-choreographer Bob Fosse and actress Gwen Verdon. The 1969 film starred Shirley MacLaine as the innocent Charity. The 1986 Broadway revival (overseen by Fosse, who died shortly after) starred Debbie Allen, and toured with Donna McKechnie.
Applegate will share the stage with the Oscar Linquist of Denis O'Hare, the Big Daddy of Rhett George and the Herman of Ernie Sabella. Wayne Cilento choreographs. The creative team for Sweet Charity comprises Wayne Cilento (choreographer), Scott Pask (set designer), William Ivey Long (costume design), Brian MacDevitt (lighting designer), Peter Hylenski (sound designer), Gordon Lowry Harrell (music director) and Don Sebesky (orchestrator).
"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 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 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."