WHAT better character name could there be for a show opening on St Valentine’s Day than Charity Hope Valentine?!
Company regular Katie Melia will take that sweet, optimistic, indomitable, hopeful, romantic, trusting, naïve, quirky, charming, caring, irresistible role in York Stage’s production of Sweet Charity, the musical with the subtitle The Adventures Of A Girl Who Wanted To Be Loved.
From tomorrow to Sunday, the John Cooper Studio will be transformed into a seedily seductive Fandango Ballroom for the 1966 Broadway musical with a book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields, decorated by such songs as Big Spender, If My Friends Could See Me Now and Rhythm Of Life.
“I’ve wanted to do Sweet Charity for over a decade in York,” says director-producer Nik Briggs. “When I started York Stage, we had an Independent Woman season, with Hairspray, Sister Act and Legally Blonde, and Sweet Charity was in on the wish list.
“I’ve always loved Neil Simon’s work, and considering it’s a dance-heavy musical, you can still really get into the story. What made him so special at that time is the realism in his work, where everyone recognises those situations, and to see those scenes so intimately at Theate@41 will be really rewarding.”
In the American musical comedy, Melia’s heart-of-gold New York City taxi dancer Charity Hope Valentine fantasises about three things in life: romance, luxury and escaping the questionable ballroom clientele. Lovable, gullible and spirited, she longs to find a lover to sweep her off her feet but Charity keeps handing over her heart and earnings to the wrong man, whether Charlie, his name tattooed on her arm, movie star Vittorio Vidal or Oscar.
“Charity is billed as ‘the girl who wanted to be loved’. All she wants is true love,” says Nik. “But as [fellow dancer] Nickie tells her, ‘your big problem is you run your heart like a hotel – you got guys checkin’ in and out all the time’. She’s the kind of girl who falls in love too easily and just goes from guy to guy.
“Sweet Charity follows hostess Charity through the various men in her life, as she lives in hope through all of them, but deep down, we all know that we’ve seen it all before and heard it all before, and one of the reasons I love the piece is that it doesn’t give audiences the ending they expect.”
Briggs has picked a cast of 15, led by Melia’s Charity, who is joined by Emily Ramsden and Carly Morton as dancers Nickie and Helene; Stuart Piper as Oscar; Jack Hooper as Vittorio Vidal; James Robert Ball as Daddy; Briggs himself as Fandango ballroom owner/pimp Herman and York Stage newcomer Mary Clare as Ursula and Rosie.
Amy Barrett, who played the female lead, assembly line worker Lauren, in York Stage’s Kinky Boots last September, will be Carmen, while supporting roles go to Verity Carr, Ilana Weets, Kelly Stocker, Sam Roberts, Stuart Hutchinson and debut-making Katherine Farr.
Rather than an orchestra of 30 for big Broadway productions of Sweet Charity, Briggs and musical director Jess Viner have “totally rearranged” the songs for a small band, stationed above the stage on the mezzanine level. “It’s almost like a jazz quartet,” says Nik. “We’ve created a production for the Theatre@41 space [a black box design] and that space is very much a 16th member of the cast.”
A further key factor is the choreography for a musical first choreographed by Bob Fosse for both the stage premiere and the 1969 film, his screen directorial debut. “You can’t move away from the Sixties, that very stylised choreography that is sensual and sexual,” says Nik.
“Danielle Mullan-Hill has created really dynamic routines for us that’ll be very exciting to see in that space – and she knows that space and how to work it from doing our pandemic pantomime, [Jack And The Beanstalk, in December 2020]. It will feel really immersive.”
To mark St Valentine’s Day, York Stage are advertising the first night as “Galentine’s Night”. “Traditionally, it’s a night for all the gals without a Valentine date, when they get all the girls round,” says Nik. “There’s a glass of fizz included in the ticket for Valentine’s night for gals…and guys.”
Coming next from York Stage will be Ian Fleming’s fantasmagorical musical Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, flying car et al, at the Grand Opera House, York, from April 6 to 15. Principal roles will go to Carly Morton as Truly Scrumptious; Ned Sprouston as inventor Caractacus Potts; Finn East as Baron Bomburst; Richard Barker as the evil Childcatcher and Mick Liversidge as Grandpa Potts. Adam Tomlinson will be the musical director.
York Stage in Sweet Charity, Theatre@41, Monkgate, York, tomorrow (14/2/2023) until Sunday, 7.30pm, except Sunday; , 2.30pm Saturday and Sunday matinees. Box office: tickets.41monkgate.co.uk.
York Stage in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Grand Opera House, York, April 6 to 15, 7.30pm; 2.30pm, April 7, 8, 12 and 15; no shows on April 9. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.