“It is a story about real people with real issues,” Russell Fischer said.
This may seem like the opening credits to an episode of The Real World, but in fact, Fischer is referring to Rider’s Fine Arts Department’s fall production of Sweet Charity.
“The show does not have the typical musical theater love story with a happy ending as most do,” he said.
Fischer, a senior music theater major at Westminster Choir College, portrays Oscar Lindquist, a “claustrophobic tax accountant, fraught with anxiety,” who falls in love with a young woman named Charity, played by Rachel Yucht, a senior fine arts major.
Miriam Mills, the show’s director, came up with the idea to put on the production last year. She described Sweet Charity as a “sexy, fun and delightful story of a young woman who always seems to make the wrong choices but finds a way of surviving and flourishing.”
Sweet Charity, which opens today in the Yvonne Theater, tells the tale of Charity Hope Valentine, a dance hall hostess who desperately wants to leave her seedy job. However, she constantly gets caught up in dating the wrong men who only hold her back from pursuing her dreams — until she meets Oscar.
Yucht said that her character’s name describes the ambition and caring qualities she possesses, and that while playing the title role has its advantages, it was “the most demanding role I have ever played both emotionally and physically.”
The play, which has been in rehearsal since the second week of September, has Yucht’s character being pushed into lakes, lifted upside down and knocked over. Fellow castmate Joanne Nosuchinsky, a sophomore fine arts major and the dance captain for the production, agreed that the rehearsals have been both very challenging and a great workout.
Mills, who has been teaching at Rider since 1992 and has directed numerous productions at the University, including last year’s Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde, said that Sweet Charity is one of the most entertaining shows she has been involved with in a long time. Mills added that she has never worked with “such a phenomenal cast” before.
However, that “phenomenal cast” has seen its share of ups and downs during the rehearsal process, including the replacement of the character of Herman, whom Michael Hollinshead, a junior theater arts major, was originally slated to play. In the past few weeks Hollinshead had become ill and could not continue with the role. Instead, Judah Frank, a senior theater arts major, will now play Herman.
“It was rough trying to redo some of the scenes, but mostly it was sad to see Michael leave the cast,” Yucht said. “[But] this final week of rehearsal has gone much smoother than I had expected. Everyone has stayed focused, and we are all working hard to make this a great production.”
Another challenge for the cast has been the need to relate with the characters they portray. Nosuchinsky, who plays a member of the musical’s dance ensemble as a Fandango Dancer, was not used to the role of a woman who is paid to dance with men.
“It was difficult to identify with this type of dancer since I’ve never done anything quite so risqué in my life,” she said. “But I got a good grasp of her confidence, attitude and status.”
Members of the cast, including Fischer and Nosuchinsky, have seen productions of Sweet Charity before and insist that Rider’s production remains true to the key aspects of the original scripts but has added new elements to the set and wardrobe that audiences will really enjoy.
As the show’s opening weekend approaches, Mills’ message for the Rider community is simply put.
“You are going to have a blast,” she said. “This show is just plain fun. No work, just entertainment, joy, great music, great dancing and wonderful talent.”
Sweet Charity’s preview performance took place last night and will continue its run tonight. The remaining performance dates are Nov. 9, 10, 16 and 17, all at 8 p.m. in the Yvonne Theater. Tickets are $10 for the general public and $5 for students, faculty and senior citizens.