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‘Sweet Charity’ a knockout at Writers’ Theatre

Tiffany Topol stars as Charity Hope Valentine Writers' Theatre producti'Sweet Charity.'

Tiffany Topol stars as Charity Hope Valentine in the Writers' Theatre production of "Sweet Charity."

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‘SWEET CHARITY’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

When: Through March 31

Where: Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe

Tickets: $35-$75

Info: (847) 242-6000; www.writerstheatre.org

Run time: 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission

Updated: March 2, 2013 11:37AM



‘Without love, life has no purpose.”

I’ve seen several revivals of this musical that have felt silly and dated — stuck in a strange time warp of the 1950s and ’60s. What Halberstam, Redish, Topol and the deft ensemble behind her manage to do, is to create a sort of fairy tale world that just goes straight to your heart without stopping at any reality signposts. And for the first time at Writers’, dance trumps words as the most expressive of all languages.

Redish pays full homage to Fosse (her take on “Rich Man’s Frug” is alone worth the price of admission). But she also adds a lyricism and individuality to the choreography that fully captures Charity’s vulnerability and humanity.

Charity’s adventures begin when her married rotter of a boyfriend pushes her into the water and she almost drowns. It then moves on to her adventures with Vittorio Vidal (Jeff Parker), an Italian film star in the Marcello Mastroianni mode who still pines for his glam diva, Ursula (leggy Emily Ariel Rogers). Finally, worst of all, there is Oscar Lindquist (Jarrod Zimmerman, just right as the needy young nerd). Charity saves him from a panic attack when they get stuck in an elevator on the way to “uplifting” classes at the 92nd Street Y, but ultimately he leaves her at the altar. As Charity learns yet again, even true love is elusive.

Along the way we meet the other burnt-out dance hall girls (all far more cynical than Charity) played by Karen Burthwright (who has the show’s best quip: “Who dances? We defend ourselves to music”); Ericka Mac (the veteran); Rogers (the jaded showgirl type), and Katie Spelman (the naive newcomer). Adam Estes, Travis Porchia and Liam Quealy are the fast-moving men with all the moves (and gropes), with James Earl Jones injecting some wonderfully zany psychedelic antics into in his portrayal of the minister of The Rhythm of Life Church, whose congregation is full of losers and nutcases.

Collette Pollard’s set perches the formidable band on a dance hall-like balcony, with Tom Vendafreddo leading BJ Cord (a terrific horn player), Bill Harrison, Nick Moran and Bob Rummage.

Looking for a Valentine’s Day date? “Sweet Charity” might just be your girl.

One sour note: The show’s program fails to list the individual musical numbers — a widespread practice these days, but one that should be rectified.



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