Though 1966's Sweet Charity contains dated ideas about women and more than a few musty conceits, sometimes the sheer energy of its brassy musical numbers can lift it above time-capsule status.
Unfortunately, WaterTower Theatre's off-target production reveals the show's inherent flaws, making you realize when something doesn't work, it really doesn't work. Just as the cast gasps for breath through each song and dance, so does the show.
Playing the dance hall hostess with a heart of gold (and nary a brain in her head), Whitney Hennen tries to make Charity Hope Valentine charming in her stupidity. But that's the main problem: Charity isn't so much a dumb blonde as she is a sappy romantic, continuously falling in love with love no matter how many times it tramples on her. Hennen, a gifted dancer and comic actress, works hard to sell Charity's enthusiasm but struggles with the songs.
Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields' standards such as "If My Friends Could See Me Now" and "I'm the Bravest Individual" take a backseat to two tunes sung by Charity's taxi-dancer pals, Nickie and Helene. With her slumped shoulders and brash delivery, Kia Boyer sells Nickie as one tough cookie, while Lindsay Longacre plays winningly into Helene's blunt crassness. They both turn fiercely determined with "There's Gotta Be Something Better Than This" and wistful during "Baby Dream Your Dream," where they paint a picture of seemingly boring domestic life that ends up surprising them with its allure.
The rest of the show is a trippy grab bag of a story written by Neil Simon, which involves a cult-like church, a broken elevator, a greasy Italian movie star and a very odd wedding shower. Replicating Bob Fosse's iconic choreography is iffy, since the ensemble isn't up to par with the sharp isolations and sexy, sinewy movements that make the style.
If you stop to think about it, the show's entire beginning could be chopped and we'd be none the wiser, since the detour Charity takes with Vittoria Vidal doesn't do anything except drive home what a dum-dum Charity is. Director Michael Serrecchia's one great addition to this sluggish production is casting Luke Longacre as all three of Charity's boyfriends, showing how easy it is to make the same mistakes over and over. But please, let's not repeat this one.
WaterTower Theatre's Sweet Charity runs through August 16.