Sweet Charity

Hayes Theatre, February  13

Charity res
Girls, girls, girls, indeed, with Verity Hunt-Ballard on the left.

Musicals staged in small theatres have been rare beasts, but that is about to change. Two days after seeing Falsettos in the Eternity Playhouse, here was Sweet Charity launching a new permanent home for pocket productions of musicals in Sydney, the Hayes Theatre (previously Darlinghurst Theatre). The venue is now named after Nancye Hayes, of course, who was the first Australian Charity in 1967.

As with Falsettos this production had an intensity that could not happen in a larger space; a buzz and immediacy that made you feel part of the action rather than a voyeur. And what action. Neil Simon’s book, Cy Coleman’s music and Dorothy Fields’ lyrics was always a feisty affair, bubbling with gags while having a healthy dose of the new earthiness that hit musicals post-West Side Story, and was so crucial to the works of Kander and Ebb.

Verity Hunt-Ballard lights up the stage as Charity, who is desperate for a little love and a sense of belonging in a world defined by her lousy job as a dancer willing to do sex on the side, back or front. Hunt-Ballard infuses Charity with log fires of warmth, and then makes her spit and sizzle as the funny lines strike that warmth. Her singing and dancing matches the effervescence of her acting, and she finds a credible foil in Martin Crewes playing the bumbling, rather gutless Oscar, as well as Charlie and Vittorio. Debora Krizak’s delectable performance as Nickie and Ursula heads an admirable support cast in this energetic production for Hayes Theatre Co directed by Dean Bryant.

The show is replete with such show-stopers as Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now and Rhythm of Life, although the latter was underdone: rather than being supple, groovy and having swelling dynamics it was too brash and one-dimensional. Part of the problem was excessive volume, and this must be addressed for the little venue to work for musicals. The five-piece band under the admirable Andrew Worboys was simply too loud (especially the drums), and the amplified singing was being raised to rock-concert levels to try to push it over the top.

Owen Phillips has created a simple set just using screens and chairs, leaving more or less enough room for Andrew Hallsworth’s snappy, sexy choreography.

At the end Nancye was beckoned from the audience and presented with flowers. It was a nice touch, and she didn’t have to fib to flatter this highly entertaining production.