Director Phil Willmott has been carving out a career for himself by reviving classic musicals under downright improbable circumstances. You had to admire his sheer chutzpah in producing something of the scale of Sweet Charity in the shoebox of the Man in the Moon theatre. There, the immediacy and claustrophobia of the venue did wonders for the production. He has considerably more space in BAC's main house but he manages to fill it with a dedicated cast of children, nuns and Nazis.
He claims to be "laying the text bare in an uncluttered production", which translates as "no expense spent". The set is minimal, the score is played (rather lumpenly in places) in the two-piano version and Willmott leaves it to the cast to make it work. This is a less-than-selfish exercise as Willmott himself plays the dangerously shifty Max. At one point, the Captain says, "It's a good thing you haven't any character. If you did, I'm convinced I'd hate you." Unfortunately, Willmott has no more and no less character than any of his under-directed cast, who are often left hanging, beaming fiercely as they arrive at a song cue like stranded performers in pack shots in TV ads of old.
This ultimately winning production gets by on energy, although there are one or two who clearly confuse charm offensive and charm. Penny-Belle Fowler puts up a perky fight, acting and singing spookily like Maria Friedman, let alone Maria von Trapp. All seven children are beguiling (of course) and Roz McCutcheon is a marvellously fruity Mother Superior.
The problem for cynics is that, no matter how hard you try to distance yourself from the piece (people are snottier about this musical than any other), it simply works. You may loathe yourself for doing so, but you'd have to have a heart of ice not to find yourself falling prey to its stunning manipulations. This isn't good writing, it's precision engineering.
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