It starts with the sound. From the second the nine-piece band
strikes up the overture (with the famous 6-note riff which leads
into Big Spender) Cy Coleman's
thrilling score is delivered with all the punch, verve and excitement
musical theatre fans long for. And despite filling the tiny Chocolate
Factory space with a sometimes startling decibel level, the sound
balance is so perfectly pitched that every word of Dorothy Fields'
cork-popping street-slangy lyrics is audible. Musical director
Nigel Lilley and sound designer Gareth Owen are the men to thank.
prejudice about stage productions using TV names to boost box
office made me fear we might get an under-powered Charity in Tamzin
Outhwaite, but I needn't have worried. She is simply terrific,
a riveting presence on stage, singing true, strong and with conviction
(and great diction) and moving superbly. Some reviewers have missed
a sense of Charity's vulnerability, and it's certainly an interpretation
which displays less pathos than Shirley MacLaine's in the film
version. However I found Outhwaite heartbreakingly convincing
in the final scenes in which Charity descends into desparation
and self-abasement when faced with the unkindest cut of all.
In an unusual move, the actor playing neurotic Church-of-the-Month
subscriber Oscar, Mark Umbers, also takes on the roles of the
other men in Charity's life. He is splendid throughout and it
is indeed the multirole aspect which helps make this production's
choice of closing moment particularly effective; the heart both
smiles and sinks at Charity's total inability to change. I preferred
this ending to the original stage version where Charity emerges
from a second dip in the lake to take reassurance from a fake
Good Fairy, or the alternative used in the film and most recent
Broadway revival, derived from the source material (the Fellini
film Nights of Cabiria), in which Charity is taken up by a group
of gentle Flower Power hippies.
Under Matthew White's direction the supporting cast consistently
hits the mark from start to finish. Josefina Gabrielle and Tiffany
Graves nail perfectly Baby, Dream your
Dream's transition from hard-boiled cynicism to a deep,
still longing: the most poignant moment of the evening. Dorothy
Fields would love them.
The big numbers everyone knows - Hey,
Big Spender, If My Friends Could
See Me Now, Rhythm of Life
- are masterfully staged by White and choreographer Stephen Mear
(he of many credits including the NT's sublime, euphoric Anything
There are a couple of moments I especially liked, one from the
start and one near the end. While the overture is playing the
Fan-Dango girls arrive at work all brash veneer and full of coarse
joshing as they trash-glam themselves up for the night ahead.
As the music changes to the theme from Where
Am I Going, so does the mood of the women. Movement stops
for a while as they sit and stand in solitary contemplation of
the state of their lives. A nice way to presage the themes and
moods of the evening.
Secondly, I loved the staging of the number which comes the closest
to the "must move plot forward" mantra often used to
judge the quality of songs in post-war musical plays. In I
Love To Cry At Weddings, led by Jack Edward's Herman, the
coming tragedy is pointed up by skilfully spotlighting Oscar's
growing unease in the midst of the joyfully vulgar celebrations.
You sense the pain on the way.
The run appears to be sold out, but it must be realistic to
hope that this classy Charity will follow the path from the Factory
to the West End well beaten by Sunday in the Park with George,
Little Shop of Horrors and A Little Night Music.