Christina Applegate in Sweet Charity(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
Christina Applegate in Sweet Charity
(Photo © Paul Kolnik)
Christina Applegate has snatched victory from the jaws of defeat -- or, more precisely, from de jaws of de feet. Though she broke her right foot during the obstacle-ridden Sweet Charity road tour, the peppery television star has landed on both pegs. She's apparently done everything in her power to reach Broadway, and it has worked. The smart money said that it couldn't be done -- bets were even waged publicly with producers Barry and Fran Weissler -- but the smart money turns out to be wrong. Applegate is a singing, dancing, acting delight as Charity Hope Valentine, the dance-hall hostess with a heart of gold.

A musical seemingly developed in a more innocent age (aren't all previous ages innocent?), Sweet Charity follows the hapless title character on her quest for love, a better career, and a better life. Whether decrying her plight with limber co-hostesses Nickie (Janine LaManna) and Helene (Kyra Da Costa) or landing in an impromptu pot-of-jam date with movie star Vittorio Vidal (Paul Schoeffler), whether wondering where she's going or falling for the shy Oscar Lindquist (Denis O'Hare) and eventually becoming engaged to him, Charity keeps her chin as high as her too-often dashed hopes.

The blonde, apple-cheeked Applegate keeps up with Charity every quick-step of the way. The boob-tube import has a chirrupy singing and speaking voice, long legs for lithe terpsichoring, a light-hearted sense of comedy, and a figure to set orchestras playing. She's so accomplished that anyone who wasn't around for her reported out-of-town miseries would be right to wonder what all the moaning was about -- or, conversely, would realize once again the value of out-of-town preparation. That's where a lady can make mistakes, correct them, and be transformed into a serious Tony Award contender.

As no one who's hung around Manhattan's Glamour Gulch for a few decades will have forgetten, this is the show that Bob Fosse and Neil Simon shaped on leading-light Gwen Verdon from the Federico Fellini-Tullio Pinelli-Ennio Flaiano film Nights of Cabiria, way back in 1966. While Applegate is no Gwen Verdon, it could also be said that Verdon was no Giulietta Masina, the first to play the winsome character. Never mind. It's far more than enough that Applegate is Applegate as she trills and twirls through Simon's solid laugh lines and the masterful Cy Coleman-Dorothy Fields songs. (What a shame that the recently deceased Coleman isn't around to hear his score revived with such brightness.) The star is amusing in her comedy scenes, especially when hiding in Vittorio Vidal's closet. She's impish in "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and poignant in "Where Am I Going?" Only in "I'm A Brass Band" is there the merest hint that the calisthenics that were second nature to Verdon have been slightly scaled back for Applegate.

The same kind of shrewd retooling that director Walter Bobbie did in reviving Chicago has now been brought to bear on the charming, cheerfully inconsequential Sweet Charity. (Both shows are about innocents out of their depths, and both were Verdon vehicles.) Bobbie has invaluable help from William Ivey Long's 1960s costumes, though there isn't an abundance of them; Charity and the girls aren't far removed from being charity cases in the one dress each that they sport. Set designer Scott Pask and lighting designer Brian MacDevitt do extremely clever work here; theatergoers will have to see to believe what they do with the Mark Rothko-inspired painting that backs Charity when she's wishing that her friends could see her now.

Bobbie must share credit for the show's electrifying quality with choreographer Wayne Cilento. To be sure, Cilento had Fosse's blueprints and perhaps also helpful Labanotations to work with, but he brings substantial notions of his own to the dance floor. What he's done with Coleman's "Rich Man's Frug" makes the number one of the best seen on Broadway this season: The svelte dancers, dressed to the nines in William Ivey Long's Emilio Pucci reminders, start out haughtily and eventually adopt boxing stances that drolly comment on the interaction of the superficially refined upper crust. It's hilarious. Cilento puts Applegate and sidekicks -- with an emphasis on the "kicks" -- through lively paces and gets the "Rhythm of Life" number cooking with gas.

Denis O'Hare has proved in his last three Broadway appearances -- in Take Me Out, Assassins, and now Charity -- that he's got a knack for making audiences adore him. It's a blend of talent, inspired silliness, and his obvious eagerness to entertain. For this revival, the creative team has thrown him a song that wasn't in the original production. It's titled "A Good Impression," and he makes the most of it -- as he does everything, including a scene in which he plays Oscar's claustrophobia for all its comic potential. Janine LaManna and Kyra Da Costa are sleek as dolphins in their routines, and Ernie Sabella as the dance-hall manager is rightly gruff until he doesn't have to be. In the brief roles of Vittorio Vidal and his tempestuous girlfriend Ursula, Paul Schoeffler and Shannon Lewis make nice impressions.

At the end of the 1966 production of Sweet Charity, a then-little-known Ruth Buzzi was featured in an amusing sight gag. That comic interlude has been eliminated here in favor of something far more triumphant for Charity Hope Valentine. Considering this revisal's history, the sequence serves as a sweet apotheosis not only for Charity but for Christina Applegate as well.