Music and comedy make a ‘Sweet’ pair

Above, members of a congregation celebrate the “Rhythm of Life.”  Below, Charity (senior Rachel  Yucht, center) and her two friends contemplate their dead-end jobs as taxi dancers.By Jess Decina

Someone who hasn’t heard much about the musical Sweet Charity might not expect heartache, debt and dead-end jobs to be the central conflicts of the show. In order to make something so depressing seem so funny, you’re going to need a hell of a lot of energy and a knack for outrageous humor. In this production of Sweet Charity, both of those elements are in full force.

The story centers upon Charity Valentine (senior Rachel Yucht), a girl whose big dreams are constantly put on the back burner by her dead-end job as a dance hall hostess and a slew of messy relationships — two of which end with Charity being shoved into a lake.

Everything changes for Charity, however, when she gets stuck in the same elevator as Oscar Lindquist (senior Russel Fischer), a nervous and terribly shy accountant. Romance blooms between the two, but there’s one small hang-up: Charity’s too scared to tell Oscar the truth about her chosen occupation.

Certainly, this is a love story we have all heard before. Or have we? The action of Sweet Charity puts a twist on “happily ever after,” which is especially surprising for a Neil Simon piece. The musical isn’t as “sweet” as it sounds, which may wind up disappointing the audience. Still, it manages to be a great performance to watch.

Yucht was, without a doubt, outstanding as Charity. Her character was vibrant, funny and terribly naïve all at once. Yucht also proved her knack for physical comedy; watching her detangle herself from one bad situation after another could have easily come off as pathetic, but instead, it was hilarious.

Yucht truly lit up the stage during “If My Friends Could See Me Now,” a song where Charity is gleefully spinning a hat, twirling a cane, dancing across stage and singing her heart out. Yucht’s powerful voice and energetic movements gave this number the punch it’s supposed to pack.

From the second we met his character, Fischer had the audience members laughing. His portrayal of the anxiety-ridden Oscar, though over-the-top at times, was an excellent juxtaposition to Yucht’s playful energy. One of his best scenes occurred when Oscar and Charity are trapped in the elevator. Fischer used subtle movements to indicate Oscar’s panic; first, he started wiping his brow, then added little nervous laughs, then began stuttering and speaking quickly. Fischer’s attention to detail, paired with his dead-on delivery (when Charity asks Oscar where he lives, he takes a quick pause, then yells, “In an elevator!”) made his character a little less farcical and much more realistic.

Yucht and Fischer weren’t the only stars of the show; every member of the cast stood out. Look no further than “Rhythm of Life” if you don’t believe me. During this song, the ensemble members — led by the outrageous Daddy Brubeck (senior Kevin Feehery, in an all-too-short appearance on stage) — exploded with life as they danced across the stage.

The show’s overall energy even managed to make its way into the set. Every set piece was visually appealing, yet playfully exaggerated. A city skyscraper, built using bold colors and large panels, framed the stage, and dazzling set pieces — like a bright red vanity that characters peer into as though there’s an actual mirror there — were wheeled on and off stage at different intervals.

Last Friday’s showing wasn’t without its flaws, but they were few and far between. A few hiccups with scene transitions took away from that constant surge of energy you feel throughout that show. Certain scenes opened with dance numbers performed by the ensemble; though these dancers were nothing short of impressive, those scenes felt a little subdued as the audience waited for the action to begin on stage.

Some of you might remember that Fine Arts’ past two musicals, Hair and Urinetown, were ranked on the Princeton Packet’s exclusive must-see list. I’m obviously no Packet critic, but I would certainly go as far to say that Sweet Charity brings all of the same punch and pizzazz that the previous two musicals brought.
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