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Sweet Charity

The New Haarlem Arts Theatre offers up a Latin-tinged revival of the 1966 musical comedy about an overly optimistic dance-hall hostess.

By New York City
Amy Lee Sanchez, Kelly Rosado,
Allicia Lawson, Edlyn González, Aili Venho,
Monica Delgado and Jade Eshete
in Sweet Charity
(© Jonathan Slaff)
Amy Lee Sanchez, Kelly Rosado,
Allicia Lawson, Edlyn González, Aili Venho,
Monica Delgado and Jade Eshete
in Sweet Charity
(© Jonathan Slaff)
The liveliest sequences in the New Haarlem Arts Theatre revival of the classic musical Sweet Charity, now at Aaron Davis Hall, are the dance numbers -- not surprising for the 1966 musical comedy that director-choreographer Bob Fosse tailored for his adored leading lady and wife, Gwen Verdon.

Credit for these numbers is split between this version's choreographer Lainie Munro and director Julio Agustin. Munro goes her own non-Fosse way on "Rich Man's Frug," but stays more in the Fosse mode on "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" and "I'm a Brass Band."

Agustin keeps thing humming on the indelible "Big Spender," "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and the rest of the sometimes top-drawer, and sometimes second-drawer Dorothy Fields-Cy Coleman show tunes.

What is most noticeably different here is that Agustin started thinking a Latina treatment made sense for the book Fosse wrote and then Neil Simon rewrote (based on the screenplay of Federico Fellini's film Nights of Cabiria). Specifically, he figured many of the dance hostesses around whom the action swirls came from Hispanic backgrounds, so the ever-optimistic, forever jilted heroine has been renamed Caridad Esperanza Valentin (Edlyn Gonzalez). As in the original, though, she still either encounters trouble with the opposite sex or is upbraided for her refusal to face reality by her far more cynical co-hostesses Nickie (Allicia Lawson) and Helene (Aili Venho).

Otherwise, aside from the likes of some throwaway dialog in Spanish, a few signs, also in Spanish, indicating "El Primo Beso" (a first kiss) or "Splash" (following someone supposedly plunging into a body of water), and the fact Rhythm of Life" second-act opener, now unfolds in an arena where Santeria is practiced with white-hot intensity, not much has been substantially altered here.

Gonzalez is a nimble and stylish dancer but much less nimble and stylish when singing. Nonetheless, she certainly has the right wide-eyed expression of disbelief and rarely daunted enthusiasm Cari requires, and that takes her far enough. Supporting her in this economically designed presentation, Lawson and Venho are extremely helpful, as are Jeff Wojcicki and Cedric Leiba Jr. as two of Cari's men, and Jasmine Romero as a quintessentially fiery Latin.

Incidentally, Fosse and Simon never hit on a Sweet Charity ending that completely satisfied them. However, the one used here -- which for spoiler-avoidance sake won't be described -- flies in the face of everything Sweet Charity has come to stand for and leaves audience members scratching their heads.


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