Sweet Charity Melbourne season

“There’s gotta be something better than this.” I don’t think so.

Verity Hunt-Ballard and cast. Sweet Charity. Photo by Jeff Busby.
Verity Hunt-Ballard and cast. Sweet Charity. Photo by Jeff Busby.

This time last year, new independent company Hayes Theatre took over an old 110-seat theatre in Potts Point in Sydney and opened with a small-scale production of the Sweet Charity. This 1966 Broadway musical was directed by Bob Fosse and starred Gwen Verdon, and was made into a movie in 1969 that was directed by Fosse and starred Shirley Maclaine. It wasn’t surprising that the small venue show sold out but it caused a stir when it was nominated for and won some Helpmann Awards (that don’t cover indies). Its return season was at the Opera House in Sydney and it opened for a too-short season in Melbourne last night.

If you’re choosing between the musicals on in Melbourne over the next couple of weeks, this is the choice. With a small cast (12), small band (four) and relatively-tiny budget, it packs more punch than the biggest shows on in town and reminds how musical theatre can and should grab you in the guts and make you forget everything except what’s on the stage.

Director Dean Bryant, music director Andrew Worboys, choreographer Andrew Hallsworth, and designers Tim Chappel (costume), Owen Phillips (set) and Ross Graham (lights) prove that great musicals can be made without the spectacle and money that dominate commercial shows. Start and end with story and character and you’ve got a show.

In 1960s New York, Charity Hope Valentine works in dance hall and charges for her body and time but gives her heart away too easily.

The choreography and direction is part-tribute to Fosse’s distinct style but is never lost to the memory of past productions, and the late-1960s story is told very much from the perspective of now and doesn’t put all hope in Charity getting herself a man.

Verity Hunt-Ballard is Charity. She’s amazing. She makes Charity’s unselfconsciousness seem natural, while letting her be vulnerable and hopeful underneath the tough-innocent shell that lets her pretend that she can see a way out of the world that isn’t going to give her a chance to be more than a cheap dance-hall girl.

Supporting her all the way are Deborah Krisak, Kate Cole, Martin Crewes and an ensemble who always put character first.

The bonus is that every number, including the well-known “Big Spender”, “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “The Rhythm of Life”, continues the story on the stage and brings an originality that lets each song stand alone and tell its own story.

The show has been tweaked for bigger theatre but it’s still best to be close to really appreciate the performances. I moved from see everything to closer seats in interval and it was a different show.

Sadly Sweet Charity only has a two-week season. I’d love to go again, but that’d mean someone else misses out.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

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