The trials and tribulations of Charity Hope Valentine are mere blips compared to those that have dogged this long-in-the-making “Sweet Charity” revival. After its merry-go-round lead casting, the show received less-than-rapturous out-of-town reviews, only to be followed by star Christina Applegate breaking her foot just a few weeks before the musical was scheduled to hit Broadway. Her replacement was plucked from a still-running Broadway show and sent out-of-town to save the day. That day will not come, however.
On Friday, “Charity’s” producers decided to cancel the Broadway engagement, which was slated to open April 21 at the Al Hirshfield Theater.
It would have been nice to report that Charlotte d’Amboise triumphed, winning our hearts and minds as Charity — but any possibility of that is now over.
D’Amboise at best officially qualified — to borrow from one of the show’s songs — as the bravest individual. We admired her pluck and perseverance — and certainly her lithe and limber dance moves. Clearly, d’Amboise is a multitalented pro who knows the Verdon vernacular (she was starring, for the same producers, Barry and Fran Weissler, as Roxie Hart in “Chicago” when she was paged for “Charity”), but the character was not yet a comfortable fit.
For the show to work, the audience must fall in love with Charity as effortlessly and easily as the naive, vulnerable and kooky dance-hall hostess gives her heart to others. Push too much to please and the character turns pathetically desperate; not enough and she disappears into the day-glo crowd of hookers, neurotics and religious revivalists. Although she nearly nails the musical tech requirements, D’Amboise was still searching for that inner Charity that would naturally captivate.
Her pairing with Denis O’Hare as her anxious accountant boyfriend Oscar is more age-appropriate than Applegate’s, so their relationship became more believable. But the comic chemistry between these two mismatched misfits was still finding its way as well.
D’Amboise isn’t the only one who needed time, rehearsal and help from the creative team before it could hope to transform itself into a Broadway hit. The two replacements for Charity’s galpals Nickie and Helene — Janine LaManna and Kyra DaCosta — didn’t yet have the snap and sizzle required to take it to another level.
Overall, the production, directed by Walter Bobbie and choreographed by Wayne Cilento, was more workmanlike than inspired. Few scenes took off and what should be killer numbers — “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This,” “The Rhythm of Life” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now” — simply failed to electrify.
Unfortunately, it’s too late for auds to fall in love, claim a star and save a show.