SWEET CHARITY at the Candlelight Music Theater

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As an advocate for Candlelight Dinner Theater for 5 decades, first as an actor and then as a critic, it is extremely gratifying to see that they not only survived, but thrived over those years. . They only pay their cast and creative team a stipend. For a man/woman, “they do it for love”. Having been in dozens of theaters over the years, no company shows the constant joy and passion like those that adorn the Candlelight stage. The packed house on the opening night of SWEET CHARITY felt that vibe.

Charity Hope Valentine (Phoebe Gavula) is a taxi dancer at the Fandango Ballroom in New York circa 1970s. The men come in and pay Herman the manager (JJ Vavrik) for the dance. The women are girl “hostesses”, “social advisers”. (Ha)! As the first production number “Hey, Big Spender” clearly suggests, fandango women are not thrilled with their position in life. “We are not dancers, we defend ourselves in front of the music”.

But, Hostess Charity is an irrepressible Panglossian optimist, literally wearing her heart on her arm. As her name suggests, she is constantly looking for the best in people for love. Alas, she is continually snookered on both accounts. As her friend Nikki laments: “your problem is that you run your heart like a hotel – you have guys coming in and out all the time.”

Director Jessica Bostok has done a wonderful job creating attitudes about the fate of sets in life. The “stopping action” in one scene was especially effective in the nightclub.

Reviewing my notes from past production numbers, I tried to consider a more innovative routine than choreographer Jody Anderson’s “Rich Man’s Frug.” There was Devon Sinclair’s work in BIG FISH, there was Dann Dunn’s work in CABARET, there was HAIRSPRAY. Anderson’s electrifying effort in “Rich Man” is equal to that. (Disclaimer: Sinclair’s dances in BIG FISH were created by him. All dances in Fosse’s shows are derived from “The Master” and therefore imitated).

Wigs and headpieces by Clayton Stacey, costumes by Timothy Lamot Cannon, and surreal and inventive lighting by Matthew Kator created a one-of-a-kind event that concluded with a loud outburst from guests. Kator’s dramatic lighting adds both depth and sparkle to the production. Stacey was in her element with all the over-the-top bouffant hairstyles.

The dance sequences alone are worth the price of admission. The original choreographer Bob Fosse, with his distinct style, reshaped the aesthetics of modern musical theatre. Fosse is as recognizable by dancing as Trump is by lying. Think hunched shoulders, tucked knees, punctuated hand movements, finger snaps, side shuffling — and, yes, jazz hands. The dancers performed perfectly, especially Charity (Phoebe Gavula), Nicki (Beth Dugan) and Rosie (Olivia Sauerberg).

Sauerberg’s biography indicates that she is a sophomore in college. Aisle Say suggests it’s not long for this tri-state area. Think back to the 70s when Susan Stroman left Wilmington for Herald Square. A few years later, she impresses Hal Prince well… the rest is history. This second one has a lot of potential. Oh, and Rosie’s ponytail swirl was a hoot.

Charity’s (Phoebe Gavula) acting trumps her singing. She grew with each issue. In the second act, she succeeded with the chemistry between her and Oscar and her solo “I’m A Brass Band”.

If memory serves, Aisle Say first saw Oscar (Jared Calhoun) in BRIGADOON. Since then, his presence on stage has been an undeniable asset for the company. She’s a triple threat with a powerful voice. With each successive show, we see his versatility. Calhoun’s comedic chops were on full display, especially with his jerry lewis elastic face, displaying the 7 stages of claustrophobic horror in the elevator scene with Charity. “Let me out for a few minutes and I promise to come back.”

Basketball coaches say “you can’t teach height”. Aisle Say suggests you can’t teach charm. Calhoun was probably born with it. I don’t know, look at her baby pictures. Ask his mom.

Aisle Say admits he has no training in orthopedics. But there’s no denying that Big Daddy’s (Bryan Jeffrey) skeletal configuration is unlike most other humans. In the opening sequence of “Rhythm Of Life”, it was quite obvious that Jeffrey’s pelvis is double-hinged. There is no other explanation. Her midsection movements were cascading like a Colorado River rapids, prompting an involuntary “WOW” from my companion. Sammy Davis, Jr played Big Daddy (movie) and Ben Vereen (arrange). Both would be proud of Jeffrey’s portrayal. We wouldn’t be surprised if her choreographic training helped her with the dance sequences.

CHARITY is a costume-rich production with dance, ballroom, bedroom, marching band and bohemian scenes. Costumer Cannon was true to every setting. One wonders why the titular character never changed his costume or boots? Of all the costumes on the show, this was the least appealing choice. It got repetitive. It was getting tiring.

The food is well proportioned and tasty. The servers, many of whom are on the show, are the coolest people. Tonight, the chef added berry to his signature shrimp. Aisle Say prefers his nude, but who is he to judge? Garlic mashed potatoes? But yes !

Oh good? $70.00 for dinner AND a wonderful show? Aisle Say continues to declare Candlelight “the best value in theater”.

Until August 28 https://candlelighttheatredelaware.org/ 302.475.2313

Next meeting: SHIRLEY VALENTINE on September 2 and 3

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