Applegate doesn't sing or dance the role with any particular distinction but she acts it wonderfully well, bringing a winsome vulnerability to the character. And, let's face it: Knowing that she's dancing on a recently broken foot makes us root for her from the start. We noticed her limping on several occasions, but she kept on dancing like nobody's business. Simply put, Applegate's plucky personality has coalesced with Charity's emotional resilience to create a strong bond between the performer and the audience. We like her, we really like her! And that's what stars are made of.
Sweet Charity is a star vehicle but it's not a one-person show. Even if Applegate were the Second Coming of Gwen Verdon, the ship would sink in the absence of a strong supporting cast; but this one floats. Denis O'Hare is funny and adorable as Charity's weirdo boyfriend, Oscar Lindquist. It's a broad comic performance, yet the actor still somehow manages to be so real in the role that one leaves the theater feeling that the show is ultimately his tragedy -- that his rejection of Charity will turn out to be the greatest regret in his life. Paul Schoeffler is magnificent as the Italian movie star who befriends Charity early in the show -- and what a voice! Some of the women in the Fandango club stand out more than others, but as a group they come across very well.
It's not just the cast that holds the piece together: Scott Pask's sets, William Ivey Long's costumes, and Brian MacDevitt's lighting are significant plusses. If Wayne Cilento's choreography is more than faintly reminiscent of Bob Fosse's original work, at least he borrowed from the master. And director Walter Bobbie doesn't allow any dust to settle; the pace of the show is fast and fluid.
But you know what really makes it all work? The book is by Neil Simon, the music is by Cy Coleman, and the lyrics are by Dorothy Fields. How bad could a show be if it was written by a trinity like that? Sweet Charity has one hilarious scene after another and a string of hit songs; this musical has you in its grip as soon as the oveture starts with the brassy vamp of "Big Spender." Irresistible!
Life of a Salesman
It's a tribute to the Broadway revival of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross that it's every bit as strong as the original production and also equals in quality the powerhouse movie version of the property.
The key to the play's success has always been the performance of the actor playing the pivotal role of Richard Roma; this is, after all, the one character who interacts with all of the others. We would have thought that no one could ever equal Joe Mantegna's electric portrait of Roma in the original 1984 Broadway production; indeed, it took an actor of Al Pacino's caliber to match it in the movie. Liev Schreiber has the part in the revival and he is breathtaking, imbuing Roma with a winning mixture of brittle intelligence and understated compassion.
Another standout is Tom Wopat, who transforms himself into a nerdy, ineffectual mark for Schreiber's shark of a salesman; it's remarkable how he virtually disappears into the role. As for the rest of the cast, this is one estimable ensemble: Alan Alda, Jeffrey Tambor, Frederick Weller, Gordon Clapp, and Jordan Lage. They are brilliantly supported by Santo Loquasto's set design -- particularly in the second act -- and by Joe Mantello's tight, gritty direction.
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