True Grit. First she had to fight to get in it. Then she had to fight to bring it back to life.
The show was going to be a revival of the Bob Fosse/Neil Simon/Cy Coleman/Dorothy Fields smash hit that in 1966 starred Fosse's wife, Gwen Verdon, as much-mistreated taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine. Auditions were underway. Nobody knew, least of all Cy himself, that the man who'd written the music of all those hard-driving Sweet Charity songs was going to have a fatal heart attack before the year was out.
"Believe me," says Christina Applegate, the movie and television star who was bucking to come to Broadway as the beset heroine, "they put me through the ringer on those auditions. Cy particularly. All one day down at Michael Bennett's rehearsal studio just above 14th Street. What'd I do? Sang a couple of songs, danced a couple of dances. And Cy said to me, 'Have you anything else in your repertoire?' I said, 'Mr. Coleman, I'm from Los Angeles. I don't have a repertoire.'
"That day I got the part, but Cy said, 'We'd like one more session with you.' It turned into a three-hour session in Los Angeles. Just Cy and a piano player and me. What'd I do? I was coached by Cy Coleman for three hours, that's what I did. He was a perfectionist, and wanted perfection out of me. I thought that was it, the nail in my coffin." She got the part. The nail came later.
On March 11 of this year, in a performance in Chicago on the way to Broadway, Applegate spun around a pole and broke a bone in her foot. Sweet Charity proceeded to Boston, with Charlotte d'Amboise filling in. But before it could even reach New York, producers Barry and Fran Weissler announced they were closing it down.
One would like to have been a fly on the wall during the next four days, at the end of which interval the announcement was made that Sweet Charity was indeed going to open at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre on May 4, with Christina Applegate as its star.
What'd you do? the fly asks the star.
"I turned it around," says an Applegate who is trying not to sound too much like the cat who licked the cream. "I'm good with the puck. [I] made a very personal plea to the Weisslers. What was on my mind was that hundreds of people were out of work because I broke my foot. We had to finish what we were doing."
How is that foot? "The damn thing is stronger now. Some nights it's a marathon. I do really well up to about shows seven and eight" — of the eight performances a week.
She's never seen any prior stage production of this musical, but she has seen the Shirley MacLaine movie version and the 1957 Fellini film, "Le Notti di Cabiria," with Giulietta Masina as the huge-eyed prostitute-waif who always comes up smiling. "Oh s--t," says Applegate. "I don't want to talk about her. She's what breaks my heart every day; the Charity who wants to believe in people, trust people."
And you, Ms. Applegate? "I want to believe in people, but as you get older you get savvy and don't trust what happens between people any more. She's the part that reminds you why you should.
"Well, after this, I know I'm a fighter. I didn't know that before — and, not that I'm invincible, but I can overcome anything."
If you could see me now….