Hoping for a Better Life in Manhattan

Adrian Mustain, Natalie Nucci, and Justin High. (Photos courtesy of Ken Jacques.)

Adrian Mustain, Natalie Nucci, and Justin High. (Photos courtesy of Ken Jacques.)

Director/choreographer, Ray Limon, recently staged several musicals at the Welk Resort Theatre that have connections to Bob Fosse. After well-received productions of Chicago and Cabaret (Fosse directed the motion picture version), Limon’s latest Fosse influenced interpretation is the 1966 comedy-drama, Sweet Charity.

Loosely based on the Federico Fellini movie, “Nights of Cabiria,” a taxi dancer, Charity Hope Valentine (Natalie Nucci), yearns to find love in Manhattan. When her boyfriend, Charlie (John Paul Batista), dumps her in brutally comedic fashion, she thinks about the events that led her to her breakup.

Charity eventually falls for a nervous and sincere tax accountant, Oscar Lindquist (Daniel Newheiser). She debates whether to tell him about her profession, or lie about her career.

Charity’s journey is more of a character study than a plot heavy narrative. She starts off ditzy and naïve, but wants to grow as a person. Charity even dreams of leaving her seedy job with her co-workers, Nickie (Adrian Mustain) and Helene (Justin High).

Nucci carries the rendition with a rubber-faced portrayal of the kindhearted romantic. Whether pratfalling out of a closet, singing about her hopes and dreams or enthusiastically dancing onstage, Nucci turns Charity into a delightful heroine. On opening night, Nucci proved to be a game player after making a witty comment in character following a small malfunction on Brian Redfern’s set.

At first, Newheiser is a little too excessively neurotic playing Oscar, but he quickly grew into an ethical and moral New Yorker. His big duet with Nucci, “I’m the Bravest Individual,” managed to be both uplifting and funny.

Famous musical numbers from composer, Cy Coleman, and lyricist, Dorothy Fields, remain to be popular to this day. “Big Spender,” “If My Friends Could See Me Now” and “I’m a Brass Band” are crowd-pleasers thanks to the ensemble and pianist/conductor, Justin Gray.

Limon’s choreography features Fosse’s sensual and 1960’s touches, especially during a group number, “Rich Man’s Frug.” Taking place at a cool evening spot called the Pompeii Club, the almost lyric free melody includes a lot of vintage Fosse movement.

Limon has no problem with the extravagant tunes, and the storyteller is just as self-assured with dialogue heavy scenes written by Neil Simon.

Some of the most humorous moments involve Charity’s interactions with a beloved Italian movie star, Vittorio Vidal (Gerardo Flores). Their conversations are full of hilarious comical Simon punchlines.

Janet Pitcher’s costumes are inspired by clothing from the original Broadway version and the 1969 film. Her designs add to the old fashioned appeal of the eve.

Redfern’s set and Jennifer Edwards’ lighting makes New York City seem like a place with many mini worlds. Charity’s workplace at the Fandango Ballroom might have a sleazy vibe, but she also visits joyful locations, like sunny Coney Island and a psychedelic hippie “religious” church called the Rhythm of Life.

Daniel Newheiser and Natalie Nucci.

Daniel Newheiser and Natalie Nucci.

Although Charity’s adventures are enjoyable to watch, there are certain sequences that seem random and out of left field. Act I mostly avoids this issue, with the exception of Vidal’s solo tune, “Too Many Tomorrows.” Vittorio sings very well, but the love song doesn’t really fit the tone of the script.

Act II gets off to a bumpy start with two songs that add very little to Charity’s odyssey. “Rhythm of Life” pokes fun at the lifestyles of flower children, yet ends up being an odd non sequitur.

Following a church service is a song between Helene and Nickie, “Baby Dream Your Dream.” While not a bad tune, the message about their aspirations is similar to an Act I anthem, “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This.” Once the first few songs from Act II are completed, the evening picks up steam till the tale is finished.

In spite of some slow moments, Limon’s take on Sweet Charity mixes big songs with unforced optimism. The Welk Resort Theatre continues to successfully help preserve Fosse’s legacy.




[box] Show times are Thursdays at 1:00 p.m and 8:00 p.m, Saturdays at 1:00 p.m and 8:00 p.m, and Sundays at 1:00 p.m. [/box]

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8860 Lawrence Welk Drive Escondido CA 92026 USA Work Phone: (888) 802-7469 Website: Welk Resorts Theatre website
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