‘Sweet Charity’ at Timber Lake.
By Sue Langenberg
The shows at Timber Lake Playhouse are coming and going fast this season as the third opening hit the stage last night with “Sweet Charity,” a first-time run for the summer stock theatre in all these 50 years.
Special guest director Lili-Anne Brown returns to TLP for this production and makes her mark on this show. She is no stranger to TLP with her success in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” and last season’s riotous “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.” Her Chicago credits include Second City, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Steppenwolf, Reader’s Theatre and an A&E series “The Beast” with Patrick Swayze. It is a pleasure to welcome her work back to the boonies.
There are many big names that make up the history of this 1966 Broadway musical “Sweet Charity.” The book was by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman with iconic choreographer Bob Fosse throughout. Gwenn Verdon starred in the original cast that ran for 608 performances. Moreover, the inspiration was a black-and-white Italian screenplay by none other than Frederico Fellini whose Charity character was actually a prostitute, rather than the lighter version featuring a hall dancer, played by TLP’s Alexandra Palkovic.
Various revivals of the play include other big names Juliet Prowse, Ann Reinking, Chita Rivera and Shirley MacLaine of the 1969 film. There is little doubt that audiences love this show for all its sugary innocence with a thread of life’s hard knocks mixed in. Looking for love is the message at the core of the story. And there are also familiar songs. “Big Spender” was superbly performed by TLP gals Daryn Harrel, Julia Mitchell, Erica Vlahinos, Katie Wesler, Sophie Brown and Sydney Hoyle who came and went via marvelous circular stage and genius lighting by designer Matt Guminski.
Oscar Lindquist role was played by Andrew Harth who worked the part to the max in the stuck elevator scene, as did Kelsey Andres in dramatic character Ursula March.
Much loved as the show is, there are hints of inherent weaknesses within the script that may have always been there. For one thing, Fosse’s daunting choreographic influence with turned-in moves of oozy and steamy, sometimes bazaar and mocking, sucks the air from the rest of the action in such a way that at times overshadows the story line.
But Fosse is SO Fosse, and for TLP, indeed the choreographic highlights showcased the best of Fosse possible as company talent Tyler Sawyer Smith re-conceived the original moves and brought the audience to a standing ovation at the end. First act highlight was “Rich Man’s Frug,” the effect of which can be compared to Jerome Robbins’ earlier genius in the “West Side Story” gymnasium dance, brassy and infectious right to the core of explosive nonchalance. Smith and TLP artistic director Jim Beaudry were part of this ensemble, always full of themselves and always dance supreme. Lead frug dancer Kelsey Andres was also outstanding.
‘Frug’ was not to be outdone by second act “Rhythm of Life” dance featuring Smith in his strongest presence and living proof that he is as stage-versatile as they come. He can be comical upon a minor entrance, yet bring the house down in a major role.
As Charity Hope Valentine, Palkovic was a strong voice in familiar songs, “If My Friends Could See Me Now” in characteristic rough-around-the-edges as the part calls for. Completing the TLP cast, and no less important, are Aaron Conklin as Charlie, Henry McGinniss, Dryden Meints, Cody Canyon, Patrick Connaghan and Grant Drager.
Must-see musical “Sweet Charity” continues through Sunday Matinee 2 p.m. July 10 at Timber Lake Playhouse. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday shows at 7:30 p.m. plus a Wednesday matinee 2 p.m. The Mt. Carroll boonies are a hop, skip and a jump to 8215 Black Oak Road. Call the box office at (815) 244-2035 or firstname.lastname@example.org for tickets, group rates and more information.