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No weak links in stunningly sweet show

Reporter: Paul Genty
Date online: 09 December 2016


Royal Exchange, Manchester, to January 28

I'D RECOMMEND you get your tickets as soon as possible for this superb production, one of the best I've seen all year.

I've had some average experiences of the musical over the years though it should be great, the product of three giant theatre talents: composer Cy Coleman, lyricist Dorothy Fields and writer Neil Simon, all at the peak of their powers and experience.

This time, at last, it is: after a terrific "Little Shop of Horrors" two Christmases ago, director Bond was asked to do another and has imported a terrific cast, two-thirds of whom have never appeared in this theatre before.

Coleman's score has some tremendous songs: the ubiquitous and much misappropriated "Big Spender", "If My Friends Could See Me Now," "The Rhythm of Life" (wonderfully well-sung by the entire cast), "I'm a Brass Band", and best of all, "There's Got to be Something Better Than This", reminiscent of Bernstein's "America" and here terrifically well-sung by the three leading actresses, Cat Simmons and Holly Dale Spencer as dance-hall hostesses Helene and Nickie and star of the show, Kaisa Hammarlund as their friend Charity.

You might have caught Hammerlund in "Holby City", but this sort of larger than life character is clearly her home: endearing, sad, sweet (of course), desperate, cheerful and hopeful, usually all in the same line. It's a stunning performance that pushes the show to tremendous heights, ably supported by Daniel Crossley as the diffident, neurotic Oscar; Bob Harms as movie star Vittorio, Josie Benson as preacher "Daddy" Brubeck, Sevan Stephan as Herman, the seedy dance hall boss who loves to cry at weddings, and the rest of the hard-working cast.

There isn't a weak link, driving Simon's humour to the hilt, getting the most out of one of the best scores of the Sixties and adding full weight to Fields' lyrics and the superb band (which has the benefit of clarity and balance).

This Sweet Charity succeeds because Bond treats it as a comic drama above all. It has tremendous detail in the performances, is precise, clear and well-choreographed (by Aletta Collins), and has a cast that has worked hard on making the characters real... before having a ball with the music and lyrics, which they also handle brilliantly.

Undoubtedly the show of the season so far.


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