Book by Neil Simon
Music by Cy Coleman
Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
adapted from the film Nights Of Cabiria, by Federico Fellini, conceived by Bob Fosse

INFO:

Opened at the Palace Theatre   January 29, 1966    608 performances (often revived, twice on Broadway for another over 650 performances)
Original Director: Bob Fosse
Original Choreographer: Fosse
Original Producer: Fryer, Carr and Harris
Original Leads: Charity: Gwen Verdon    John McMartin: Charley
Cast Size: Male: 4   Female: 11   Ensemble: at least 12   Total Cast Size: 27 or more
Orchestra: 18-21  (Could definitely be done with less…)
Published Script: Random House (The Collected Works of Neil Simon, Volume 3)
Production Rights: Tams Witmark
Recordings: There are at least five different recordings, including a studio recording with the complete score. Gwen Verdon is very strong in the original, MacLaine wonderful in the film.
Film: Movie starring Shirley MacLaine, directed by Fosse. Worth a look if you are interested in this show. Also features the great Sammy Davis, Jr.
Other shows by the authors: Simon: Little Me, They’re Playing Our Song, Promises Promises    Coleman: Wildcat, Little Me, Barnum, I Love My Wife, The Will Rogers Follies, City Of Angels
Awards: 9 Tony nominations, winning only for Fosse’s choreography. Revived on Broadway in ’86, it was nominated for 5 Tonys and won 4, including best revival.

WHO SHOULD DO THIS SHOW:

This is an adult show for adults. Colleges and Universities might do it. Dinner Theaters not catering to families could do it. Little Theaters could do it. Stock companies might try it, but there’s a lot of sets and a lot of dance. Regional and Broadway can certainly consider it.

Be Warned:

Sex flows pretty fast and easy in this show, at least in dialogue and some dance. Not for kids and not for every audience.

The dance required for the show is hard core jazz and modern theater dance. A company not equipped to do that shouldn’t try this show.

Finally, if you haven’t a star-quality actress to play Charity, do another show.

THE STORY:

ACT ONE: Signs advise us that we are going to see is “The adventures of Charity, the story of a girl who wanted to be…loved.” We’re in a park. The orchestra pit is the lake. Charity looks around for someone, A young man with dark glasses enters, and she proceeds to deluge him, not allowing a word from him. She does all the talking, wooing herself on his behalf. (“You Should See Yourself”) At the end, he pushed her into the lake and steals her purse. A lot of people watch her drowning and offer commentary, but no help. She’s finally dragged out of the water, nearly dead, and a dirty old man offers to provide the luscious young girl CPR. Two cops enters and ends the crowd scene, questioning Charity. She says she lost a show in the lake, and a cop “wades in” and retrieves it. In questioning her, we find she works at the Fandango Ballroom, as a dancer hall hostess, (it’s temporary) and has for the past eight years. Why was she in the water? Her fiance, Charlie, whose name is on a tattoo on her upper arm, is going to marry her when he gets a divorce from his wife, and they were supposed to meet here at the park, she slipped off her shoe and slipped her feet in the water…

To the Hostess Room of the Fan-Dango Ballroom. A combination locker room, dressing room and lounge. Charity is changing, as are 8-9 other ladies, all listening to her sad story, continued from the last scene. (Nice idea by Simon.) She makes excuses for the man who pushed her in, claiming he was trying to save her – but got the purse instead. Charity always believes the best of any man, whether or not it’s deserved. And she’s attracted to most men, even the stud who took her purse. There’s a picture up of the guy in dark glasses…did she invent the incident??? She assumes Charley is out in the audience right now, waiting to apologize for not showing. Herman, who runs the joint, gets the ladies to go to their places to open the show. Nickie, a particularly tough lady who has spent a number of years in an “upstate government hotel” offers Charity her view – Charity is a stupid broad. “Your problem is you run your heart like a hotel – you got guys checkin’ in and out all the time.” (Exactly.)

The girls are on stage, enticing men to dance. (“Big Spender”, great number!) Charity is looking for Dark Glasses as women walk off to booths, men in tow. She asks Nicky if anyone asked for her. She expects Jack the Pusher, he’s always there for her. She can’t understand why the man would do this to her. She bought him all sorts of expensive gifts, and then she tole her purse! She cries on Nickie’s shoulder, and the girls are a sympathetic audience. She remembers how they started. (“Charity’s Soliloquy”) Though the man mistreats and uses her to pay his bills and you name it, she can’t help herself from falling for him and getting him everything he never needed. She decides she will never let a guy break her heart again. But when representatives of various real and silly charities ask for donations, she can’t help being first in line.

A street, outside the Pompeii Club. The doorman brushes Charity away, thinking she’s soliciting. A beautiful, well-dressed woman, Ursala, storms from the club angrily, pursued by Vittori Vidal, a movie star. Vidal runs into Charity and apologizes. She, of course, recognizes him. Charity watches their fight, an avid fan, as the Doorman tries to get rid of her. Ursala refuses to return to the club with Vidal, and tells him to find another girl. The world freezes for a sign reading “A stroke of luck.” Vidal again walks into Charity. As Ursala watches with growing fury, and to Charity’s thrilled amazement, the man invites her into the club.

Inside the Pompeii Club. People dance and wonder who Vidal is with. (“Rich Man’s Frug”) She sits with the famous actor. But all Vidal can talk about (angrily, longingly) is Ursala, and foolishly, Charity advises him. She calls in to check her messages, and proudly tells Nickie over the phone she’s out with Vidal. Vidal now pays Charity some attention, and asks soulfully to dance. As they start, Charity, who has given away all her money to the poor and various causes and has not eaten that day, passes out. (Or she seems to.) She assumes Charley is out in the audience right now, waiting to apologize for not showing.

Vidal takes Charity back to his chi-chi apartment. He is worried about her and places her on his big bed – and she’s game for anything. They talk, though. And she admits she wants to impress him. She admits she’s a dance hall hostess. He enjoys her coy but artless talk, and grows interested in her. She goes on and on about his movies, which he has a low regard for. She asks for his autographed picture so she’ll know this night really happened, and he happily complies. She asks for something personal, and he heads into the apartment to find something. Alone, she dreams what they would say “If My Friends Could See Me Now”. (The most structured song in the show, and the best.) He comes back repeatedly with items from his films which she accepts (and uses in her dance).

At last, he can think of nothing he owns to show her how he feels except for a simple, affectionate kiss on her forehead. He then offers her dinner, and she asks if there’s anything…anything…she can do for him. When he politely turns her down, she understands that he’s in love with Ursala, whom he claims he’s not thought about all night. Then, Ursala shows up at his door. Ursala begs to be let in the bedroom, and Charity, hiding in the closet now, cannot stand their pain and insists Ursala be allowed in.Usrala accuses him of having an affair, and he says ye, he’s with the girl he picked up at the club, and Ursala can look in the closet if she doesn’t believe him. Instead, she says she trusts Vidal and begs for his forgiveness. Even as he starts making love to Ursala, Vidal surreptitiously passes a beer into Charity, in the closet. (“Too Many Tomorrows”) Charity, smoking a cigarette, watches the love song from the vantage of the closet. Charity’s cigarette smoke fills the closet, and she starts exhaling the smoke into a garment bag. (Cute bit!) Charity can’t help but be moved by the love scene played out in front of her. She’s a true believer in love. A new day. The lights rise on Vidal’s bed, ursala asleep. Charity also sleeps, standing in the closet. Vidal catches her quietly as she falls out. But she’s happy with her photo…and impressed with his romantic technique.

The Hostess Room and the Fan-Dango. She walks in with Vidal’s hat and cane, his gifts to her. She tells the girls and Nickie the tale. They don’t believe her, just as she sang earlier. They think that, if it happened, she blew it, she should have gotten something of value from him. The women dream of a better life. (“There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”) Herman kicks them out onto the stage to dance. But Charity wants to change her life, and decides she needs some refinement.

The 92nd Street Y. A girl sits in an information booth, answering questions about various classes offered by the Y, to imp[rove people’s lives. Charity asks to join a cultural group. A shy, attractive man, Oscar, is also in line. He’s late for a class on “free thought in action”, but the girl pointedly tells him to wait until she’s done helping Charity, and he meekly complies. She’s interested in the class Oscar heads off to…or interested in Oscar…and follows him.

An elevator, small. Charity hurries in with Oscar. The elevator rises (not really…) and Charity slyly glances Oscar’s way. Suddenly the elevator stops mid-floor! Oscar is worried. They’re stuck. He starts freaking almost immediately. (Funny scene.) She tries to calm him, get him talking, and so they meet each other. But he starts hyperventilating. She advises him to imagine “I’m The Bravest Individual”. Just as Oscar gets his courage up, the lights in the building fail. They each light a pathetic match in the dark, and both cry for help.

ACT TWO: The Y. Two lonely matches. The lights kick back on! The car descends! They are going to leave the Y, but she’s interested in him. He admits he is painfully shy, which is why he’s at the Y, for a group analysis class. Is he cured? He didn’t have the nerve to bring up his problem in class. Well, Charity is not shy. He likes her and invites her to his Church – the Rhythm of Life Church, under the Manhattan Bridge.

At the Church. The “parishioners” of the Church sing “The Rhythm Of Life”, a fine contrapuntal piece celebrating their philosophy. Daddy Brubeck is the head of the Church, and they sing the hymn to him. He’s “hip” (in a pretty dated way now), as he preaches that time is running out, and offers the hipster version of the Ten Commandments. And the members put out their joints as the cops break in…

Oscar and Charity move on to the streets of NYC. He apologizes for the strange Church. He asks to see her tomorrow night, and she says no if he’s into human sacrifice. He just wants a movie. He assumes she works in a bank. (His hobby is guessing what people do.) She does not disabuse him, and offers to meet him in front of the Y. He calls her Sweet Charity as he departs.

Her apartment. Three of the ladies are there, hanging out, doing their nails and playing cards. Charity tells them she’s gone out with Oscar six times in two weeks, and he never does anything but kiss her hand! They can’t figure him out. They ask if she’s told him she’s in the “Rent-A-Body” business, Charity says he doesn’t care, so they now know he does not know what she does for a living. She storms out. The girls can’t believe what a sucker Charity is, and sing about the ;lines men feed such girls. (“Baby, Dream Your Dream”) But they long for the right guy to come along and make their dream come true.

Coney Island. People with balloons, kewpie dolls, ice cream walk by. Everyone points up at a couple stuck above in the Parachute Jump. Lights rise, and the stuck couple are Charity and Oscar. She begs him not to panic. But she’s the one who is panicked, he’s calm and reliable. She’s never had a reliable man before. She’s changed him. (“Sweet Charity”) He likes everything about her. She starts to confess that she doesn’t work at a bank, when they kiss and she drops the subject.

The Fan-Dango Ballroom, in thje lounge. The girls are sitting around, reading magazines and bored, when Herman (the owner) alerts them to a young man who has entered. They go into their routine, he selects a girl and off they go. A new gorgeous girl has joined the business, Rosie, which pleases the girls not at all. Rosie thinks the job will be temporary, she’ll make money and marry her boyfriend in California. Sounds familiar. Charity enters and gathers the girls to announce that she’s in love with her dream man. No one believes it will amount to anything, and they suggest to Rosie that Charity knows everything about this business, learn from her. Another gentleman enters, and the girls all go after him. He picks Rosie, they go off together. Two more guys enter. Charity doesn’t care, she doesn’t want to work there anymore. She wants out. (“Where Am I Going”)

Time square. Charity has escaped, and now sends Oscar a telegram. She asks what his intentions are, and asks him to meet at one A.M. At Barney’s Chile Hacienda. At the Hacienda. Oscar waits nervously. Charity joins him. She tells him she can’t see him anymore because they’re not going anywhere. She starts to nervously admit to her actual job…but he already knows. He doesn’t care what she does, he wants to marry her. He talks about his plans to leave the city with her, and swears he doesn’t care about her past. A man loves her! (“I’m A Brass Band”)

The Ballroom. Everyone hides as Charity enters. Then they surprise her. It’s her farewell party. They’re all crying, but they finally give her a wedding present – a baby snow suit. The girl who bought it thought Charity was pregnant – isn’t that why she’s getting married? As a farewell, Charity dances with their three regulars. Only Oscar has entered, and is watching. She introduces him to everyone. Herman offers to make a speech. (“I Love To Cry At Weddings”, really good 11:00 number.)

Oscar and Charity walk hand in hand in a park. Oscar says he can’t marry her. He can’t stop thinking about the other men. Oscar is angry at himself. He asks how many guys there have been. She starts to answer, adding them up, and he stops her. He insists he’s saving her from his small-mindedness, and ends up pushing her into the orchestra pit, as at the beginning of the show. He helps her out, and then exits. Suddenly – Charity’s Good Fairy shows up (?!). She swears “it will all cone true tonight!” A sign shows up – “And so she lived hopefully ever after.

THE SONGS:

“You Should See Yourself”, “Big Spender”, “Charity’s Soliloquy”, “Rich Man’s Frug”, “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, “Too Many Tomorrows”, “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”, “I’m The Bravest Individual”, “The Rhythm Of Life”, “Baby, Dream Your Dreams”, “Sweet Charity”, “Where Am I Going”, “I’m A Brass Band”, “I Love To Cry At Weddings”

Hits include “Big Spender”, If My Friends Could See Me Now”, “I’m A Brass Band” (“I Love To Cry At Weddings” can stop the show, as well.)

MY OPINIONS:

As always, feel free to ignore or skip my comments and rating. But then, pray the critics show you some sweet charity.

I find this show a very mixed bag, and that applies mostly to the score. And I think this may have a lot to do with Ms. Field’s lyrics. They are clever, urban, and a bit cold. They also tend to ramble and lack structure in this show. It seems to have been a conscious decision she made, her approach to this score. And I have to say, it really does not work for me. It mimics in its seeming shapelessness the movie Charity is based on, Fellini’s Nights of Cabiria. I appreciate the reasoning behind the decision, whether it was Fields, Fosse, Coleman or all of the above decision, to have the songs free-form and somewhat shapeless. But I don’t enjoy listening to much of the score. (Another of Fellini’s great films, 8 ½, was the source material for another mediocre Musical, Nine. Perhaps Fellini works best on film.)

I like Simon’s script much more than the score, and I think it gives actors some fun stuff to work with. Charity is a great role for a very funny, gifted Musical Comedy star-like actress. Simon does his usual professional, clever job.

MY RATING: * (A better-than-average and interesting show, right for many groups.)

PRODUCTION CONCERNS AND IDEAS:

DIFFICULTY OF MUSIC:

Coleman is at home in his jazz roots for this score, and the result is probably his most commercial score, sporting three hit songs. That said, like most of Mr. Coleman’s work, it is uneven. The score is high energy “jazz” of the sort Bob Fosse promoted and specialized in. The Musical Director will need to play well, as this is not an easy score to play, learn or teach. And you’ll be working largely with dancers and actors, not so much singers.

Charity Hope Valentine – Mezzo with a bit of a belt. Character-driven delivery.

Oscar Lindquist – Baritone, but comic, character-driven voice.

Vitorrio Vidal – Baritone, romantic quality to the voice. Warmth.

Herman – A legit tenor, almost a male soprano.

Nickie – Mezzo. Good belt, must harmonize well.

Ursala – Spoken role.

Daddy Brubeck – Lyric baritone, soaring high register, clear delivery of lyrics.

Helene – Mezzo with a belt, must harmonize well.

Suzanne – Mezzo, belt, harmonize well.

Carmen – Mezzo, belt, harmonize well.

Frenchie – Mezzo, belt, harmonize well.

Rosie – Mezzo, belt, harmonize well.

Ensemble – All must belt, sing harmonies well.

DIFFICULTY OF DANCE, CHOREOGRAPHIC CONCERNS:

This is a real dance show, especially for the women cast as the Dance Hall girls, and for Charity, who must be extraordinary. It is a show in the Fosse canon, which requires a very definite look and approach and skill set. That does not mean this isn’t a show that could not be reinvented, it could. But it is very much a product of its time and its creators. Mr. Coleman was a jazz composer and player, Fosse was the Broadway jazz guy. At one time, the audience would have demanded productions of Charity to adhere to the approach Fosse trademarked. The show is over 40 years old, now, and might be reconsidered. And maybe not. The reasons this show survives are just a few. 1) The story of a good-hearted, open-armed woman looking anywhere and everywhere for love is always going to move certain audiences. 2) Dancers want to do the show, especially female star dancers.

In general, the less inhibited and the more pure the emotional expression in the numbers involving Charity, the better the show will be. This is an important note for the choreographer.

A Choreographer is likely to work on “Big Spender”, “Rich Man’s Frug”, “If My Friends Could See Me Now”,“There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”,“The Rhythm Of Life”,“I’m A Brass Band”, and “I Love To Cry At Weddings”.

“Big Spender” has rather famous choreography. It’s sometimes done on a thing like a dance bar, other times on an open stage. The ladies are lined up for public display, so gentlemen can choose their dance partner. Each lady find a unique pose, a unique approach to win the attention of men based on her anatomical strengths. She moves in a way unlike the other ladies, talks in her own manner, all of it a seduction. And it’s directed at the audience. And it’s, um, none too subtle.

“Rich Man’s Frug” is performed, per the script, by five couples on a dance floor in a club. The “Frug” was a dance craze from the 60s, and it evolved from another ever-popular dance craze, “The Chicken,” as a variation of “The Twist.” (sigh) You’ll need to learn the Frug to stage this, and then do a low-key version. Let everyone be “cool,” rather than “hot.” This is background stuff. It should be slightly sexy and funny. Low-energy choreography where the energy level itself gets a laugh.

“If My Friends Could See Me Now” is a one woman parade, a celebration by Charity who feels she’s finally someplace in her life. The man she’s with admires, appreciates her celebration, even participates by bringing her props because she has truly charmed him. And she should charm the audience as she dances, hat and cane in hand as props, bouncing on furniture and high-kicking and prancing in uninhibited style, a choreographed victory lap. She is being admired by an admirable man, and that is all Charity needs to cut loose. This number should show off your star. She should dance like a fiend, sing from the heart, every guy in the audience should wish to trade places with the lucky Vidal. The film with Shirley MacLaine shows Fosse at his best with this sort of exuberant, playfully human moment. (And MacLaine is, as ever, to die for.)

“There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” is a trio performed by three serious dancers with fantastic energy and commitment. It should kick the roof off the theatre. It is a number roaring with the drive to escape, to find another way. It should kick at walls and doors. It should scream at the ceiling to open. I’ve never felt the core of this number, what the women are actually singing about, has been represented well in choreography. This is three tigresses roaring for release from a cage. And they are tearing at the cage, figuratively and, I believe, choreographically. There should be some slight madness to the thing. They’ve been driven to it by their degraded lives, lives they accepted and now regret to some extent.

“The Rhythm Of Life” is a crazy counterpoint, performed as a “religious service” led by a 60′s guru, a hipster. (Sammy Davis Jr. got it, in the film.) The man’s a phony, a charlatan, a user, promoting pablum and drugs as God. I’m not at all sure why this number is in the show other than they needed an Act II opening with some pop. So, given that, the number needs to pop. The “true believers” are stoned, but try to avoid psychedelic staging and effects, it really dates the show. And to be heard, the rich counterpoint can’t be disturbed by wild choreography. Contained and comic religious “fervor” is in order.

“I’m A Brass Band” is, unfortunately, “If My Friends Could See Me Now”, part II. It is another celebration by Charity, solo, of a romantic victory. This one focuses around being loved, however, and somehow you must make it clear that the stakes are now higher, that this is a more intimate, a more personal victory. Music pours from Charity because somebody loves her, at last. The “at last” part should somehow receive emphasis in movement and in the singing of the song, it is the key to elevating the stakes. I guess you’ll have her imitate various instruments, as is always done with this number. I think that’s a boring approach, being terribly obvious and “on the nose.” If she sang the whole thing to Oscar’s photo, perhaps you could move the emphasis? If you sang it slow, very slow, a dawning realization at the top of the song that a man loves her, and have it pick up energy and speed to grow into a somewhat desperate celebration (desperate in as opposed to joyous), with tears rather than a smile at the end for all the men she’s gone through, all the wrong turns and bad decisions, the number might become much more beautiful, the moment deeply moving, and more necessary. It can build to a roar, tears in her eyes…and then stop, as she almost whispers “at last” at the end, and the lights go to black. Could be chilling.

“I Love To Cry At Weddings” is one of those terrific 11:00 numbers, meant to wake up the audience and let them know the show is about to end, so pay attention. It is a celebration by the sort of people who see marriage either as an escape from an unhappy life, or a rube’s game. These people are not all the same. Do they mean it? They are all happy for Charity, though several of the ladies who know her should harbor doubts that things will work out as she thinks they will. Keep the number fun, bright, put some almost revival-feel and motion to it, but allow the characters with second thoughts their little smiles, shrugs, looks of pity, what have you. This will also help keep the number focused on Charity, and the story moving forward to its rather inevitable conclusion.

As you can see, Charity must really dance, as must other women in the cast. Keep the show reasonably kinetic, but always in support of the story rather than creating runaway train-like numbers that take on lives of their own. This show already trends toward fragmentation just a bit, and needs decisions to be made at every step as to what is happening in the story, and to Charity. That must be kept front and center. The show is not called Sweet Charity for nothing.

CASTING CONCERNS:

Charity Hope Valentine – Uninhibited, generous to a fault, kind to the point of self-harm. A gorgeous, sexy, mature woman (mid 20s-mid 30s) with a sense of humor, an appreciation of others, and unyielding optimism that exceeds reason. Charity feels things deeply, and has little inner governance. Requires a consummate Musical Theater actress able to switch emotion compellingly on a dime. Cast for dance, type, acting, voice – but must do everything very, very well. A star. Frankly, the reason to see this show.

Oscar Lindquist – About Charity’s age. Essentially a sweet, common, decent man with several neurotic qualities which Charity actually helps him overcome. A comic role with some heart, and some pain in it. He needs love as much as Charity, that is central to their relationship. He is as alone as she, more so. And still, he can’t get past his moral strictures, or is it his self-doubt that he can hold on to this woman? Cast for acting, type, voice.

Vitorrio Vidal – A handsome Euro movie star, 30s-mid 40s. Charismatic, masculine, charming, worldly, and actually rather sweet-natured and kind. Of course he’s self-involved, he’s a movie star, but this one is not cruel, not exclusive, not a bad or unsympathetic man, even if he has a weak spot. Cast for type, voice, acting.

Herman – In his 40s-50s, the manager (or owner) of the Fan-Dango. He has a tough job, and goes about it in a no-nonsense way. But he does possess a limited sense of humor, he isn’t stupid or dull. He’s a professional in his own right. Cast for voice, type, acting.

Nickie – Mid 20s-30s. Another dancer, close to Charity. Tough, edgy, cynical, perhaps Italian. Like all the ladies, appealing in her own way. Not without her own frustrated dreams, not unkind. Cast for dance, voice, type, acting, should do all well.

Ursala – 20s, a model-type, sexual and emotionally charged. Probably best cast as a Euro-type, or a full-blooded ethnicity. Cast for acting, look.

Daddy Brubeck – 30s-40s, the ultimate cool hipster guru daddy. A complete fake from the word “go.” Cast for voice, type, acting, some movement.

Helene – Mid 20s-mid 30s, one of the ladies who has been around the block. Cast for dance, voice, acting, type, all must be interesting and strong.

Suzanne – Early 20s-30s, one of the ladies. Cast for dance, voice, acting, type, all must be interesting and strong.

Carmen – Early 20s-30s, one of the ladies. Cast for dance, voice, acting, type, all must be interesting and strong.

Frenchie – Early 20s-30s, one of the ladies. Cast for dance, voice, acting, type, all must be interesting and strong.

Rosie – The newest lady, early 20s, very attractive, a real threat to the other ladies. Cast for type, acting, some voice and movement.

Ensemble – All must dance, and belt. Look for 60s types, I guess.

SETS:

Since signs show up to tell us what’s happening, we can readily assume that this is not a presentational, literal, realistic show. That’s a good thing, because there are many sets. In sequence, Act I: A park (with a lake, which is the orchestra pit); The Hostess Room at the Fan-Dango; The Ballroom at the Fan-Dango; The street outside the Pompeii Club, Inside the Pompeii Club, Vidal’s apartment (with closet we can see at the same time we see the bedroom); Hostess Room, Ninety-second Street Y and elevator. Act II; the elevator again. The Church meeting under a bridge; An NYC street, Charity’s apartment (I would consider moving this scene to the Hostess room, by the way, no reason not to and it saves a set), Coney Island (on the ride), The Ballroom, Times Square, Barney’s Chile Hacienda, the Ballroom, the park.

That’s a lot of sets. Too many for most productions to afford. I would go with a unit set, I think it will work. Charity’s life revolves around the Fan-Dango, I’d have that be the main setting. Use its stage to play out her life as a dance she endlessly does, attracting and losing men. It is symbolically powerful, the place has trapped her, as have her own decisions, her life style.

I think this show is up for a rethink. Simon’s script is fine and funny and even touching, but the way the show is generally done dates it. So my suggestion – place it all at the Fan-Dango, the Ballroom. Make it more representational theater. Make it more “theater.” An open floor, a neon sign, and always customers (which might be the audience, by the way), watching in the shadows. The “park” is a bench, brought on by several of Herman’s employees who might even stand around and watch the scene, get involved with it as standers-bys watching Charity drown, and then move the bench off at the end.

The Hostess Room is a few rolled on make-up stations and mirrors that light up, same guys. (Maybe four of them, doubling as dancers, crowd scenes, small roles.) These can be set to one side of the stage, leaving the floor open for the Ballroom scene to follow without need of moving stuff out. If you’re using a bar for “Spender”, have two bored stagehands place it in half light as the scene in the Hostess Room progresses. At the end, wheel it all out.

Lower a neon sign from the rafters for the street outside the Pompeii Club. Perhaps role in a small door frame with a door. A lamppost too, if you feel it needs it.

Inside the club – roll away the door, have the dancers bring on small tables and chairs. Leave the center of the floor clear. Light the orchestra. Leave the signage. Have the dancers strike their own tables as a part of their choreography. Raise the sign.

Roll on a big, ornate bed, and drop a false wall of which we see only the edge, and which has a closet door built into it, to separate the bedroom from the closet. When the bed rolls on, have all the actors watching get a bit more interested. Pull up the false wall and roll away the bed (the men doing the job can leer a bit), revealing the make-up tables right where they were, to one side of the stage. Leave the stage bare.

The Y. Have the men bring on a table and desk around center. To the opposite side of the stage from the make-up tables, drop a barred door, representing the kind of elevator you find in older buildings in NYC. It should be sideways, we see mostly its edge, and everything to the “inside” of it would be our elevator. The space is made small and claustrophobic through isolated and limited lighting. Accompany the failure of the elevator, and later failure of the lights, with appropriate sound effects and jerks of the elevator door.

Act II, the elevator is still there. Remove it at the end, and play the Church of Life on the main stage, creating the shadow of a bridge above with a lighting effect.

The street can be a lamppost again, rolled on by the men, and maybe a suggestion of a few neon signs dropped from above. It’s NYC.

For Scene 4, again, I’d place it in the Hostess Room, the make-up tables ever in place, the open floor to the Fan-Dago available for the big number.

Coney Island. Another sign drops from the rafters. The people looking up at the Parachute drop ride are perhaps extreme downstage right. Lights rise to show a unit for the ride dropped center, suspended from the rafters. If you want a great effect and can pull it off, have it lower with Charity and Oscar already in it, and keep them suspended a few feet from the ground. This isn’t necessary, though. Just have them inside the cab when the lights rise. Drop the lights and pulls the ride up again into the rafters to reveal the Ballroom.

Times Square (scene 7) is silly. She’s on a phone. It can take place anywhere. Put her in the Hostess Room, on a phone in there. Much better with other girls around, and her trying to keep the call private.

Barney’s Chile Hacienda. We see a “booth”, rolled in by the guys, Oscar already seated on it as it is rolled out. Roll it out even as Charity makes the call in the previous scene and prays that he’ll show. That suspense is not the important point of this scene. Roll the booth out at the end with them both seated still.

The Fan-Dango is now revealed again. For the final scene, bring the bench back in. The two guys carrying it could even offer Charity a look of pity.

Approaching the show this way accomplishes many things. It drops your budget enormously. It provides a spiritual and thematic backdrop to Charity’s life, a visually focused image that will help unite the elements of the show. It integrates your ensemble and other actors more into the action, gives them more to do, makes the show feel more populated. It allows for almost instant changes in the set so action can rocket forward. And it’s very easy to design and execute, except the neon signs which you’ll doubtless need to build or have made. (You can use a cardboard box with cut gels for neon if your budget does not allow.) Done this way, a near-novice might be able to design and execute your set, and you don’t need a huge stage. You do, however, need flies and wings. You will no matter how you approach this show.

COSTUMES:

Well, if it’s the 60s, then do your homework. TONS of film exists so you can get a good look. The girl dancers must be dressed for their work, of course. But there are a lot of characters in this play and a lot of costumes. Fortunately, there’s not much in the way of specialty costuming. Nothing will need to be built, most likely. A cool, fashionable dress for Ursala. Hippie beads and perhaps a tie-die shirt under a Nehru jacket for Daddy. Cop uniforms. Something appealing and complimentary for Vidal. The rest is everyday wear, with some of the men (like Oscar) in suits, or at least jackets.

You can costume much of this from people’s closets, and thrift stores. You may need to rent a few pieces. The dancers MUST have clothes they can easily dance in. All in all, not a difficult assignment.

PROPS:

Make-up for the girls, wigs most likely as well. (Coordinate with the Make-Up Designer.) Charity’s stolen purse. Police billy clubs and guns. Clothes hanging in Vidal’s closet, including a suit bag. Cigarettes. Vidal’s hat and cane. (Coordinate with the Choreographer.) Gifts for Charity when she’s about to be married. There will be more, but not too difficult an assignment.

LIGHTING:

If you go with my unit set concept, the lighting becomes very important. It will be used as always to isolate action and focus the audience’s attention, as well as to generate moods. But since we’re “on a stage,” Charity could be spotlit for certain bigger numbers. Lighting can be more overtly theatrical. The grid could even be lowered and be visible as a reminder that this is a show on a stage.

You’re likely to have a lot of cues regardless of the overall approach taken. The neon signs should be wired into your board. Not a job for a novice.

MAKE-UP:

The girls should be made-up for their job, and it’s make-up for the 60s, unless your Director chooses to mitigate the elements that date the show, and that will be very hard to do without cutting numbers out. Everyone else is made-up unobtrusively.

Charity needs the famous tattoo on her outside upper arm. The actress should not need to get a tattoo, obviously. Over to you.

KEY PERSONNEL (The ones you MUST get right.):

Director, Choreographer, Musical Director, Charity

MY THOUGHTS:
This is one of those rare shows where, overall, I like the script more than the score. There isn’t much of a story, really, or “forward action” to latch on to. But the dialogue is really sharp, some of the best of Simon’s fabled career. Charity as a character is one of the most likeable and sympathetic he ever created, even though she is pretty, well, loose. She is unfailingly kind, unfailingly generous, and almost always loveable. It’s hard to dislike a character who believes in love to the extent that Charity does. A very fine role for a really talented, winsome, likeable actress…who can dance like a whirlwind, looks very appealing, and sings well.

The score is very uneven. “You Should See Yourself” is a fun idea, but it’s a flat opening number. “Too Many Tomorrows” is not big or melodramatically romantic enough for the effect it creates in Charity, it simply isn’t fun enough. (The actors can help by playing it like a melodrama, a cheesy movie love scene.) “I’m The Bravest Individual” is not at all a good show tune, forgettable and, well, not funny like it should be, and no way to end Act I. (This is really a problem for the Director to figure out. The comic panic of the scene must carry into the number.) “Sweet Charity” is quite a poor ballad, I’m afraid. (Could it be cut?) As I listen to the song, I don’t care about “Where Am I Going” very much. The song doesn’t go much of anywhere for me, and I know I’m supposed to care. (Using my approach, you could have all the men watch her sing this number, the men in her life, an army in the shadows, some hungry for her, others dismissive. It could provide a haunting context.)

But “The Rhythm Of Life” is a fantastic exercise in counterpoint, advanced, clever, alive. (Unfortunately the lyric is not so wonderful, and there’s absolutely no reason for this song to be in the show as far as the story is concerned.) “Big Spender” is a dark masterpiece of commercialized sexuality. “If My Friends Could See Me Now” is a one-woman parade that should bring the roof down.

This show is likely to get done and done again so long as there are singing/dancing actresses looking for wonderful roles.