It was always said of this 1966 dance hall musical by Neil Simon, Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields that it had a great score, Bob Fosse's classic choreography and not much of a book. Compared to what passes for "book" in musicals these days, of course, it's the Bible.
Sweet Charity herself is a tart with a heart in the Fandango Ballroom, where she's been fretting about not landing a man for eight years. In the movie, Shirley MacLaine breaks your heart but repairs it in a happy ending.
Matthew White's blistering revival – transferring to the West End from the Menier Chocolate Factory – not only retains Neil Simon's bitter sweet conclusion (another man, another cigarette, another chance) but tightens up the dialogue scenes, so that, for instance, the comedy of claustrophobia and vertigo in the lift and the fairground, is as pointed as in any Mike Nichols and Elaine May sketch.
In the lift, Tamzin Outhwaite's ditsy, athletic Charity is stuck between floors with Oscar, the bespectacled tax accountant, whom Mark Umbers plays, superbly, as Cary Grant with a stutter. He's handsome but flawed, a lost soul, like Charity, but dangerously unsteady in the nerves department.
It's unusual to have such a level of performance in a musical – Umbers was the definitive Freddy Eynsford-Hill in the Martine McCutcheon My Fair Lady – and it raises everyone else's game, not least Outhwaite's. She really is a revelation, and Umbers as Superman on the fairground parachute jump, soon reverting to Clark Kent mode, pays her the ultimate compliment of loving her too much to live with her.
Stephen Mear's exceptionally witty choreography echoes the double-jointed struts and poses of the Fosse original, but does away with the ballet barre, and the excessive pouting.
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