Saturday June 24th 2017

“Sweet Charity”

Tiffany Topol vert tophat They say that “good things come in small packages” and Michael Halberstan and his staff have proven this to be true with the newest production at Writers’ Theatre- “Sweet Charity”! This is a standout production of a big musical , on a small stage but with a big sound and solid performances by a cast of eleven. Yes, that is correct, eleven people do an amazing job of playing probably 40 characters. Anyone who has ever been to Writers in Glencoe, knows that this is a very intimate theater. What they did to accommodate the orchestra  is built a balcony over the stage allowing them to be above the actors so that they never interfere with our hearing every word of the lyrics ( Dorothy Fields) and music (Cy Coleman). The music is directed by Doug Peck who is a master at working a small orchestra into what sounds like a full one. The  choreography by Jessica Redish is spectacular in that she takes a space that might be as big as your living room and has almost a dozen people dancing as if they had “Radio City Music Hall” as their stage. Of course, with a book by Neil Simon, we expect funny, and it is!

Most of us are used to large scale musicals, at theaters like all the Broadway in Chicago venues and Drury Lane and marriott, but to imagine a full scale musical scaled down to a stage area this small is difficult to imagine. Yes, TheoUbique has done shows in a limited space that have been wonderful, but this is Writer’s and they are known to be one of the “best  drama companies in America”, so to have them take on a musical is something new. Yet, as they do in all their productions- they have exceeded the expectations of the audience in their version of “Sweet Charity”, the story about  a young girl who has had every bad break  one can have. Tiffany Topol, Jeff Parker v

In the role of Charity Hope Valentine is the adorable, perky and multi-talented Tiffany Topol, who has a delightful voice, can dance up a storm and brings a new look to this character. Charity, in most productions is a more “tired” personality, a woman who is at her lowest and still believes that one day her prince will come. She works at a dance hall where gentleman buy her dance, drinks, conversation and whatever, but in her heart she knows that this is not where she will be. As it turns out, she is quite naive about life and men take her for her hard earned money with her hoping that each may just be that “White Knight”. The results are a disaster. At the very onset of the show, her “boyfriend” tosses her into the lake and steals her “dowry”. When she goes back to work, alongside her fellow “dancers” ( this is where they sing “Hey Big Spender”, she tells her story and each of them let her know that she is indeed trapped in this life.

Later that evening by sheer chance she ends up spending the night ( not in a romantic way) with a big movie star,Vittorio ( played to perfection by Jeff Parker, who also handles many of the ensemble parts as well, each one having a total different look and persona) as she sings “If They Could See Me Now”, a solid dance number that really allows Ms Topol to “show her stuff”.Her love interest as the first act ends becomes a nerdy type that she meets when an elevator breaks down, Oscar ( a break through role for Jarrod Zimmerman who is dynamite in this special role as well as some earlier ensemble parts) and they become a couple, spending a great deal of time as a couple, venturing off to things they have never experienced, such as a religious service at a new religion, “The Rhythm of Life” ( a song that is peppy, bright and handled by  the always reliable James earl Jones II ( who also does a great job as Herman, the boss at the dance hall).Halberstam has truly put together a solid cast for this  leap into musical theater with dance.In The past few years, the musicals have been either “chamber” or specialty with no dance. They handled it with ease.

Tiffany Topol, Jarrod Zimmerman balcony vertThe rest of the players, who take on all types of roles are:Adam Estes, Karen Burthwright,Erica Mac,Travis Porchia, Liam Quealy, Katie Speiman and the very tall and sexy Emily Ariel Rogers. Mac and Burthwright have a very special place in what transpires for Charity, or as Oscar calls her , his “Sweet Charity”. For those who don’t know the story, as we travel into the second act and all things appear to be heading into the right direction, there is a twist that will perhaps shock you, but understand that what you see has no affect on Charity, who as I said earlier is the true “hopeful Romantic”

The five musicians, conducted by Tom Vendafreddo are top notch and again, as I earlier said, fill the Writers’ with the music the way it should be heard. The costumes which are plentiful by David Hyman must all be made for quick changes- actors go off one aisle and come back down the other with a different costume and persona in less than a minute. In fact, the only one who only has one costume until the last scene is Charity herself, which I found weird. Nick Heggestad , as always makes sure that he props are correct and while the set (Collette Pollard) is simple, it works and is a total new look and use for this venue. John Culbert’s lights are almost perfect and Joshua Horvath does wonders with sound, as I heard every word from every actor,

“Sweet Charity” is one that you should put on your “to do” list of plays and you have until March 31st to do so. The performance schedule is:

Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays at 7:30 ( except March 6th) and matinees on 2/20,3/6 and 3/20 at 2 p.m.,Thursdays and Fridays at 8 p.m.,Saturdays at 4 and 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 and 6 p.m. ( no evening performances on 2/24 and 3/24)

Tickets range from $35-$75 ( FYI- there are really no bad seats in this intimate space) and can be purchased at the box office ( located at 376 Park Avenue, just south of this theater), by phone at 847-242-6000 or online at www.writerstheatre.org

The theater is located at 325 Tudor Court ( just South of Dundee Road and east of Park Avenue), with plenty of free parking and a few spots to dine just a block away.

To see what others say, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to review round-up and click on “Sweet Charity”SweetCharity_Web_120x120_01-copy

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