New York City's The New Group is reviving Sweet Charity, a popular 1966 musical with a book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, and lyrics by Dorothy Fields. The plot centers on dancer-for-hire Charity Hope Valentine (Sutton Foster) and her romantic mishaps, namely being used by men and unceremoniously dumped.
The comedy's frank exploration of the mistreatment of women in American society is quite timely. "The show was written 50 years ago, and you hope to think that it feels like a period piece," says Joel Perez (Fun Home, In the Heights), who plays many characters in the current production, including Italian film star Vittorio Vidal who woos a starstruck Charity in some of the show's most memorable moments. "Women still are often taken advantage of by men, and we live in a society that can be misogynistic. It feels like we should feel, 'Oh, we're so past this,' but, especially in light of the election results, it still feels incredibly relevant."
To further highlight the feminist themes, the current production has altered the play's ending. "Usually it ends with 'I Love to Cry at Weddings,' Charity and Oscar go to the park where Oscar pushes Charity into the lake, and signs come out that read, 'And so she lived...hopefully...ever after,'" explains Perez.
The new production, however, has moved "Where Am I Going" (originally sung by Charity after she quits her job as a dancer at the Fandango Ballroom) to the show's final moments. The new positioning of the song is a powerful and bold choice that allows Foster to move audiences in a way they may not expect. "Seeing her in this vulnerable state, kind of questioning herself, and then the whole cast coming out, everyone kind of questioning their own lives, just drives some of the themes home differently than the original did," says Perez.
This reworked finale allows the production to be looked at through a more feminist lens. "I think that's exciting for any minority group--to feel like an underrepresented group is being explored on stage--to feel like there are these themes of others and outsiders who are being manipulated and taken advantage of, in this case by straight men," adds Perez. "I think it's something that the LGBT community can relate to considering where we are in society and how we can be perceived by the straight men in our society."
As far as musical comedies go, Sweet Charity is one that has always blended heavy thematic tones with the more lighthearted gags and upbeat hit songs (i.e. "Hey Big Spender," "If They Could See Me Now," and "I'm a Brass Band"). Yet, the current revival perfects this balance by emphasizing the show's intellectual heart. "But, at the end of the day, you are getting to see Sutton Foster in an incredible role," says Perez. "There is comedy. The dancing is incredible. I think it pleases all types of audiences."
Sweet Charity runs through January 8, 2017 at The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street, New York City). For tickets, please visit TheNewGroup.org.