Wright State prepares fresh take on classic musical ‘Sweet Charity’



The calendar says 2022 but it’s all about the groovy, swingin’ 1960s at Wright State University as a reimagined look at the rarely staged 1966 musical “Sweet Charity” is presented March 18-April 3 in the Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center.

Written by composer Cy Coleman, lyricist Dorothy Fields and librettist Neil Simon, “Sweet Charity” chronicles the journey of eternal optimist Charity Hope Valentine, a New York City dance hall hostess seeking love. In spite of her poor track record with men, Charity’s chance encounter with shy, claustrophobic tax accountant Oscar Lindquist opens the door to a surprisingly refreshing romance.

“Charity is in hard-luck times, but she keeps pulling herself up out of it and going forward with hope, which is her middle name, with grace, which is charity, and with love, which is valentine,” said director Marya Spring Cordes, WSU associate professor. “I look at Charity as a symbol of resilience. The play is about how we transcend difficulty in our life, have resilience, persevere, and believe that some good will come of our lives if we keep putting energy in a positive direction.”

In order to emphasize the show’s hard-luck theme, Cordes, whose credits include “The Wolves,” “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” and “Grand Hotel,” is offering a scaled-down, story-within-a-story framework. The audience will view the show through the lens of a 1960s theatre company doing their final run-through of “Sweet Charity.”

“We’re doing this show bare-bones in the hard times of the ‘60s as if the theatre company is still waiting for some of the big elements to arrive,” Cordes said. “It is a final dress rehearsal, and the audience is like a fly on the wall sitting in on this (experience). So, we’re building a world in which the people on stage are also functioning to the creative team – a choreographer, a director and a stage manager (among others) – who appear during our actual ‘Sweet Charity’ performance/final dress rehearsal. For example, the cast member playing the costume designer will step out of their dance ensemble role and bring on elements for other people and help them get ready. We are staying true to the story – the dialogue is the same, the songs are the same – but we have layered an extra element. We are truly honoring a tradition but we’re allowing that tradition to exist within a present space.”



Heightening the score with a vocal jazz quartet

Instead of a traditional orchestra, music director F. Wade Russo has created special orchestral and vocal arrangements. Akin to Coleman’s Tony-winning jazz score for “City of Angels,” four vocalists will provide accompaniment in a style reminiscent of the Manhattan Transfer or the Swingle Singers.

“‘Sweet Charity’ captures the sounds and rhythms of Greenwich Village jazz clubs of the early 1960s,” said Russo in a release. “I wanted to create a vocal quartet to enhance the jazz combo sound of the score using close harmony and back-up singing to give dramatic richness to this production.”

“As the jazz quartet has evolved, it provides an interesting soundtrack to Charity’s life as if you were a person walking down the street hearing singing in her head,” Cordes said. “It’s really interesting and I love it.”



Honoring the past while embracing the present

Adapted for film in 1969 by Bob Fosse, who also directed and choreographed the original Broadway production, “Sweet Charity” features timeless standards such as “Big Spender,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This,” and “Rhythm of Life.”

Guest choreographer Brandon Kelly, an alumnus of Wright State’s BFA dance program who choregraphed WSU’s 2012 production of “Rent,” says his intent was to pay homage to Fosse while putting his own contemporary spin on the material.

“Fosse’s moves are so iconic – the shapes, the pictures – and my task pays homage to his style, but we’re also giving the routines some new life the audience can feel, feast on, and enjoy,” he said. “The audience will still see slinky, sexy and mysterious movement – there is such power in the simplicity of ‘Big Spender’ – but we also bring it into 2022 in a fun way.”

Kelly serves as assistant choreographer for Broadway’s “Come From Away” and is also responsible for rehearsing actors to join the Broadway and touring productions of “Come From Away,” which will have its local premiere courtesy of Dayton Live at the Schuster Center April 6-10. He has also created works for numerous national dance companies, themed entertainment and regional theatre productions. He’s grateful for chance to train the next generation of performers in the Fosse idiom.

“What was very satisfying for me was the opportunity to work with these students and bring so much out of them and challenge them,” he said. “There’s a balance I want to find between being true to the characters and to the story and paying homage to the idea of the original production.”



Reflections from Charity

The titular role, originated by Gwen Verdon and captured on film by Shirley MacLaine, will be portrayed by Tassy Kirbas, a senior musical theatre major seen in “The Addams Family,” “Theory of Relativity,” “Mamma Mia!” and many student productions.

“My favorite element of our production of ‘Sweet Charity’ is the amount of collaboration, experimentation, gentleness and openness in the rehearsal space while we develop a new version of such an iconic musical that is completely unique to Wright State University,” said Kirbas in a release. “I am feeling warm, full and happy with our ‘Sweet Charity,’ and I can’t wait to share my passion with live audiences.”


What: “Sweet Charity”

When: March 18-April 3; Mar. 18, 19, 25, 26, Apr. 1 and 2 at 8 p.m., Mar. 20, 26, 27, Apr. 2 and 3 at 2 p.m., and Mar. 24 at 7 p.m.

Where: Festival Playhouse of the Creative Arts Center at Wright State University, 3640 Colonel Glenn Hwy., Dayton

Cost: $15-$25

Tickets: 937-775-2500 or wright.edu/tdmp

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