Monday December 17 12:17 pm

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

"Sweet Charity" - Review by Jeffrey Leibham

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The show is awash in the essence of Bob Fosse's genius in numerous ways, not only during the moments when actors are actually in motion, but also in several other design elements that are at play. The style of Fosse is writ large across this entire production, and one is quite certain that the esteemed showman would have given it his stamp of approval.

In the dream role of Charity Hope Valentine, the eternally optimistic dance hall hostess of the Fandango Ballroom, Anne Horak solidly anchors this production. Her take on Charity seems extremely contemporary given the fact that this show is set in 1966, which is both a major asset to the overall success of this particular version of the musical as well as a slight departure from the way major stars (Gwen Verdon, Shirley MacLaine and even -- not surprisingly -- Christina Applegate) have portrayed her in the past. While not "tough as nails" on the exterior, Horak finds plenty of moments where she shows how vulnerable and uncertain Charity really is.

Much of that credit should also go to the recently departed American playwright Neil Simon, who wrote the book for this musical which contains some very funny material. Add the dandy musical score by Cy Coleman and the sparkling lyrics of Dorothy Fields and you have a highly entertaining musical from Broadway's Golden Age.

One of the best songs from the show is Act One's jubilant "If My Friends Could See Me Now." It is during this number that Horak completely commands the stage, as she is alone for nearly the entire duration of the extended musical number, dancing and singing her heart out. She clearly has the skills to emulate Fosse's distinctive style of dance and has trained many hours to perfect her flawless shoulder rolls and hoofer's shuffle. It was during this portion of the show where she, quite astonishingly and almost freakishly, exactly resembled Ann Reinking, who was Fosse's romantic paramour and artistic protegé during the final decade of his life.

Supporting Horak is an extremely talented company of fellow actors, two of whom are making a bit of a homecoming to the Marriott's stage. Kenny Ingram, who started his professional career in this very theater back in the early 1990's, has returned after more than ten years on Broadway in "The Lion King" to play Daddy Brubeck, the underground preacher of love who has a following of adoring "Flower Power" hippies. Also recently relocated to Chicago from New York is Adam Jacobs, who earned his Actor's Equity card at Marriott over 15 years ago and is well-known for originating the role of Aladdin in "Aladdin." Jacobs plays Vittorio Vidal, the Italian film star and heart-throb who literally bumps into Charity outside of the swank night spot The Pompeii Club and, as a way to apologize, invites her to be his guest for the evening inside.

Both of these fine men shine in their featured roles but sadly their stage time is far too brief. Jacobs exudes plenty of machismo as Vittorio and his strong and powerful voice is put to great use in his amusing solo number "Too Many Tomorrows." Ingram and his frenetic energy as Daddy opens the second act with the groovy "The Rhythm of Life." Completing the trio of men in her life is Alex Goodrich as Oscar Lindquist, the uptight tax accountant who falls hard for Charity, and even gives her the moniker that becomes the title of this show. Goodrich, who by this point in his career has become a familiar face upon the Marriott stage, has honed his comedic chops in all of those previous roles and has finally found the ideal role in playing Oscar. His technique during the frenzied scene that concludes the first act, where he and Charity are trapped in an elevator, is astonishing. Goodrich and Horak are so wonderful together that you can't help but cheer for Charity and hope that she has finally found the man of her dreams to settle down with. The hysterical laughs encountered by their initial meeting leads to a very touching final scene in a Mexican restaurant between the two which will tug at your heartstrings and bring a tear to your eye.
Finally, major acknowledgement must be made to the hard-working members of this ensemble who received the evening's longest ovation, deservedly so, for their impressive and very tight "Rich Man's Frug." Not only do these men and women execute the difficult and demanding exactitude of Fosse's angular and often unbalanced movement and knock-kneed choreography during the dances but they also, under Sanchez's brilliant direction, extend the Fosse-esque feel even when they merely act as stagehands, carrying props on or off the stage with crisp aplomb, dressed in typical Fosse flair with bow ties, pristine white gloves adjusting their derby hats with the elbows bent just so.

For Charity Hope Valentine, a woman who tells her gal pals at the Fandango early on in the play that she has always depended on men to make her happy, she needed just to wait a mere five more years to dive into the women's movement. For as a woman who claims that she is as spunky as a brass band but doesn't know where she is going, we can't help but hope for the best for her. As Horak steps into the spotlight just before curtain and strikes that iconic and proud pose, we know that this newly independent and empowered female will be more than just fine.

“Sweet Charity” runs through October 28th at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire. Parking is free; valet parking is also available.

Running time is 2 hours, 30 minutes, with an intermission. Performances are Wednesdays at 1:00 and 7:30 pm; Thursdays at 7:30 pm; Fridays at 8:00 pm; Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 pm; Sundays at 1:00 and 5:00 pm; with select Thursday 1:00 pm shows. Dinner-theatre packages are available on Wednesday and Thursday evenings. Tickets range from $50-$60. FYI (847) 634-0100, www.marriotttheatre.com or www.ticketmaster.com.