KPBS AIRDATE: September 19, 2003
Good old musicals never die; but sometimes they get a little dusty. Two familiar friends are back for another visit: Oliver and Charity. Both are still spunky, but in their current incarnations, a tad less than thrilling and irresistible. Up at Moonlight Stage Productions, guest director Lewis Wilkenfeld presents “Sweet Charity” as a period piece, a musical equivalent of 1960s faded tie-dye. In an apparent attempt to recreate the original, Paul David Bryant gives us choreography that’s very Bob Fosse. But the production has a decidedly retro taste, less spicy than it could be. All the ingredients are there: a talented, high-octane cast, great singing and dancing, colorful costumes, an outstanding 19-piece orchestra. But the outcome is less than tangy. The first act drags, and there aren’t enough chorus numbers to pick up the pace. The Neil Simon script may need Neil Simon in as script-doctor. There are some knockout numbers, though — the melodies of Cy Coleman and clever lyrics of Dorothy Fields. The agile redhead, Kirsten Benton Chandler, makes a spunky and sympathetic Charity, the dance-hall girl with the heart of gold, who lives in the optimism of her middle name — Hope– despite a string of nasty guys who don’t just tell her to jump in the lake; they push her. Chandler’s super with “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “I’m a Brass Band.” The “Big Spender number is a little less tawdry than it should be; for a supposedly cheesy place, these taxi-dancers look pretty terrific. Jennifer Shelton and Mary Jo Mecca are fine as Charity’s sensible, if not cynical co-workers. Eric and Erin Anderson make amusing changes in their several roles. Overall, the show leans toward the sentimental and away from the brass of the Broadway original, or the dark edge of the Oscar-winning Fellini film, “Nights of Cabiria,” that inspired the 1966 musical. Still, if you haven’t seen a Moonlight production all summer… it’s your last chance for a picnic under the stars.
Now, if you’re seeking more family-friendly fare to end the summer musical season, look no further than “Oliver!” at Lyric Opera San Diego. The Dickens-based show by Lionel Bart tells the hard-luck tale of Oliver Twist, who’s in and out of more scrapes than a Wilkinson Sword. The 10 year-old English orphan is played by a sweet-voiced 10 year-old San Diegan, Morgan Thomas Hollingsworth, whose entire family is in theater, and his father, Ed, is in this production. Oliver is introduced to picking pockets by The Artful Dodger, played by a delightfully agile, robust-voiced 13 year-old, Robert Olson. Leon Natker makes a crusty but not nasty Fagin and as Nancy, Debra Wanger is a vigorous gal who really knows how to make a song sing. The orchestra is terrific, under the baton of James Lowe, associate conductor at Houston Grand Opera.
For tuneful entertainment, you can consider yourself at home with either of these musicals.
I’m Pat Launer, for KPBS news.
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