Sweet Charity Review: Fun, Good Times, Laughs at Writers' Theatre.

Sweet Charity Review: Fun, Good Times, Laughs at Writers' Theatre.
Charity (Tiffany Topol) and Oscar (Jarrod Zimmerman) are trapped in the elevator at the Writers' Theatre production of Sweet Charity. Through March 31, 2013.

CHICAGO,  Friday, February 8, 2013. Do you want to have fun, good times? Then head to Glencoe and spend a little time at the Michael Halberstam Writers' Theatre production of Sweet Charity.  This show may be just your ticket to brighten Chicago's gray winter.  The big time, good times production is a feel good blast from the past (1966, Broadway, Neil Simon) that still resonates in today's age of social media. No matter what the year, we are still members of that special club known as "The Human Race".  And it's that human spirit of falling down and getting right back up that Sweet Charity exhibits in spades.

Charity Hope Valentine’s problems aren’t unique—a dead end job, a string of dates with identically flawed men and a knack for making all the wrong choices. But she knows, in her heart of hearts, that there's gotta be something better than this.

The talented, likable, charming (not a word I use often or lightly) Tiffany Topol digs in her heels as taxi dancer Charity with just the right combination of hope, faith and charity along with vulnerability. She makes you want to give her a hug and tell her that everything is going to be okay.  No matter what roadblocks lay ahead, Charity continues to have faith in the human race.

In the Writers' Theatre production Topol is front and center, backed by ten talented cast members, some playing multiple roles. Her acting prowess makes her one of the most believable and sensual Charity's that I have seen. The only area that could use some tweaking is her vocals. Topol has a beautiful voice but she needs to hit it out of the ball park. The evening that I saw the show she came close with "If My Friends Could See Me Now"--she took it to the top and the audience loved it. Now if she can carry that over to her other songs...she'll have the audience in her hands.

Jarrod Zimmerman who plays Charity's virginal squeaky clean accountant boyfriend Oscar is the perfect foil for their comic overtones and physical humor.  Jeff Parker as Vittorio, the handsome movie star, played the role just the way it should be and may have provided the springboard for Topol's  strong vocal rendition of "If My Friends Could See Me Now".  From the always spot-on James Earl Jones as Daddy Brubeck to the rest of the dance hall regulars: Karen Burthwright (Nickie), Ericka Mac (Helene), Katie Spelman (Rosie) and Emily Ariel Rogers (Ursula)-- choreographed beautifully by Jessica Redish (a job that would make Fosse proud)--the show has a large helping of heart that beats right along with The Rhythm of Life.

Sweet Charity has had more lives than the proverbial cat with its nine lives.  The show launched in 1966 on Broadway with book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman and lyrics by Dorothy Fields and was directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse with his wife Gwen Verdon, starring as the first Charity.  The Tony award winning show was then made into a popular film in 1969 with Shirley MacLaine as Charity and John McMartin recreating his Broadway role as Oscar with Bob Fosse once again directing and choreographing.  The show has lived on in revival after revival from London, Toronto, Chicago and New York to small town America making it an American classic.

In addition to the talented cast and staging, what makes the Writers' Theatre revival something special is the space itself.  Putting on a big time musical in a 120-seat theater is no small feat. And being able to view this show up close and personal is a treat. The production is able to shine because of its smart simple staging and props that incorporate the use of folding chairs, poles and a balcony that also holds the live orchestra.  Even as I anticipate the Jeanne Gang designed larger and stunning theatre that is currently on the drawing board and should get the green light to replace the current theater, I will miss the beauty and intimacy of this over 100-year-old space.

If you have never been to Writers' Theatre, it is well worth a visit as a throwback to our genteel past.  You can almost visualize the ladies of the times dressed to the nines as they entered the elegant space that first opened as the Women's Library Club of Glencoe in 1938.  Writer's Theatre started using the theater in the Tudor Court building as their second performance space in Glencoe in 2003. (They also have performances at their original even more intimate space inside Books on Vernon, 664 Vernon Ave., Glencoe).

Ticket and Performance Information.

Curtain times are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm; Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 4:00pm and 8:00 pm; Sundays at 2:00pm and 6:00pm. Writers' Theatre is at 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe, IL. Tickets are $35-$70 and are available at the Box Office, 376 Park Avenue, Glencoe; 847-242-6000 or online.  Sweet Charity runs through March 31, 2013.

Parking and Transit.

On-street free parking is available in front of the Theatre on Tudor or on surrounding streets. The Metra North line stops at Glencoe which is an easy walk one block North to Tudor where the theatre is located.

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    Arts and Entertainment Reporter for media since 1997.

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