“Sweet Charity” is surprisingly entertaining. The show is dated — was the “Rhythm of Life” section ever funny? — but its humor and heart are still in the right place. Scott Faris’ direction is notably tight, the company is superb, and the production design is lavish and impressive. Dancing may not be Molly Ringwald’s forte, but she’s a solid singer and she is charming and ultimately loveable as the luckless Charity.
The story — a loose adaptation of Fellini’s “Nights of Cabiria,” of all things — follows the romantic misadventures of dance hall hostess Charity (Ringwald). She continues to fall for one manipulative man after another until she meets mild accountant Oscar (Guy Adkins), who she thinks might finally be the man she’ll marry. Neil Simon’s book is pretty broad, but the central theme of a goodhearted person looking for love still resonates.
Ringwald has always been a talented comic actor, and she is admirably amusing in a scene where she hides in a closet, pretending to be a hanging suit and blowing smoke into an empty garment bag. Her final scenes with Oscar are bittersweet, and her reprise of “I’m the Bravest Individual” is genuinely affecting. Adkins brings subtlety and a graceful physical presence to bear, and his rendition of “Sweet Charity” is quietly effective. His highlight, however, is a scene in which Oscar has a claustrophobia attack in a stuck elevator, and is literally climbing the walls in a tour de force of delirious panic.
Wayne Cilento’s choreography sizzles and pops with creative energy and sinuous sexuality, particularly in such numbers as “Rich Man’s Frug” or “Big Spender,” wherein an angry-looking group of dancers aggressively writhe and thrust in a dance hall that suddenly seems a smoky, shadowy hell. Scott Pask’s sets add immeasurably to the show, from the violet-lit purgatory of the Fandango Club to the high-end Club Pompeii, from a Ferris Wheel car to an elevator set that rises into the air.