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“Sweet Charity” was director/choreographer Bob Fosse’s valentine to his then wife, the beloved Broadway dancing star Gwen Verdon. She had been off the stage since their last collaboration the murder musical comedy hit “Redhead” which closed in 1960. After that she’d had a baby girl Nicole, and had been maintaining a low profile. Fosse wanted to get her back on the boards, and he tailored the role of Charity Hope Valentine to her dazzling talents. Ms. Verdon was a triple threat, besides being a dancer par excellence, she also possessed a limited but beguiling singing voice and was a fine actress as well. This was an Americanization of a classic 1957 Italian film by director Federico Fellini starring his Chaplinesque wife Guiletta Masina, “The Nights of Cabiria”. This was a tragicomedy about a little waiflike Roman streetwalker, Cabiria, who gets trampled on by life, yet despite this and the sordidness of her profession, manages to maintain a guileless hopeful optimism and go on with her life. To make her character more palatable to American audiences, Fosse changed the character to a dance hall hostess. Neil Simon, then the red hot Broadway playwright wrote the libretto, Cy Coleman composed the score, his best in my opinion and Dorothy Fields the witty, clever lyrics. Fosse of course was the director /choreographer, and this contained some of his most innovative work. It triumphantly opened at the newly refurbished Palace Theatre on January 29, 1966 and ran for 608 performances. This is yet another stellar addition to that unqualifiedly marvelous series that began in the mid to late 1990’s, the “Columbia Broadway Masterworks” which were expanded editions of some of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time with their original casts. The tone is set by the brassy, resounding overture, edgy and exciting, in the tradition of “Gypsy” and “Funny Girl”; it gets the blood pumping and sets the tone. The best songs understandably, go to Ms. Verdon, and she does them full justice. The showstopper and one that became a musical standard is “If My Friends Could See Me Now!” Ms. Verdon performed this on the Ed Sullivan Show on television in glorious color, and her gleeful, ebullient virtuosity is a joy to watch if you get the DVD. Listening to the cut on the CD is just as pleasurable. “I’m a Brass Band” is Charity’s joyous declaration of being blissfully in love, very charming, and also was done on the Sullivan show by Ms. Verdon. My personal favorite however is the raw, pulsating lament “Where Am I Going?” which shows off Ms. Verdon’s talent as a dramatic actress as Charity comes to a crossroads in her life and doesn’t know what path to take. This song musically was so challenging, that sometimes Gwen Verdon would cut it on matinee days, which was a pity. Her comic sense is well displayed in two wry numbers, “You Should See Yourself”, and “Charity’s Soliloquy”. Listening to her inimitable voice, Gwen Verdon’s unique star quality shines through. The listener is able to realize why along with Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, Ms. Verdon was one of the American musical theatres’ most treasured female assets in the latter half of the twentieth century. “Big Spender” is the other standard that came out of the show, as the dance hall hostesses led by Nickie (Helen Gallagher) and Helene (Thelma Oliver) try to entice potential customers in an aggressive yet deadpan manner. There is a staccato, Latin sounding number for Charity, Nickie and Helene when all three are weary of the dance hall and dream of escape “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This”, where you can hear and imagine the vigorous dancing that accompanies it. Helen Gallagher has a very funny moment where she nails down a NY urban accent “But Baby, what can you doo?” Misses. Gallagher and Oliver sparkle in a sardonic, bouncy pop duet “Baby Dream Your Dream”. The male lead John McMartin playing Oscar, Charity’s neurotic boyfriend gets to sing the title number “Sweet Charity” and has a low keyed ingratiating duet with Ms. Verdon called “I’m the Bravest Individual”. Finally I don’t want to forget the instrumental “The Rich Man’s Frug” which always gives me a smile, it is such an on the head parody of 1960’s music heard at then trendy discotheques like “Arthur” or “The Peppermint Lounge”. I can imagine the “beautiful people” doing the “Frug” and the “Watusi”!The extras are very special, we are transported back to the opening night on January 29, 1966 as radio announcer Fred Robbins records the curtain calls, with the audience going wild, followed then by interviews at the party at the Skylight Roof of the Waldorf – Astoria where he interviews an exuberant Ethel Merman who sings the praises of Gwen Verdon, a gratefully articulate Helen Gallagher for whom this was a Broadway comeback and Neil Simon who touches on his writing inspirations. Lastly, it’s Gwen Verdon’s turn, who though gracious, seems somewhat reserved and detached as if her mind was elsewhere. There is also the first release of “I Love to Cry at Weddings”, hardly different from the final cut. Finally composer Cy Coleman sings a trio of songs, in a pleasant voice much better than Stephen Sondheim on the “Anyone Can Whistle” CD. One song “You Wanna Bet” was reworked with a different tempo and lyrics into the title tune “Sweet Charity”. The booklet is nicely done with black and white photos, the original liner notes that were on the album, and an interview with Cy Coleman from the late nineties. The stereo sound is clear and sharp, and a tip of the hat to the late producer and president at Columbia Records Goddard Lieberson who did such an impeccable job preserving these Broadway jewels from the glory days of the Broadway musical. Forget about the Shirley MacLaine, Debbie Allen, and Christina Applegate recordings, this is the definitive version and at $7. 99 it’s a real bargain! Check it out!
Product Description Sweet Charity – Original Broadway Cast by Original Broadway Cast Recording This document of Bob Fosse’s 1966 Broadway production is almost enough to make one forget the dreadful and dated 1968 film version with Shirley MacLaine (who, though brilliant, never rose above the film’s concessions to the era–who’ll ever forget Sammy Davis Jr.’s “psychedelic” production number on “The Rhythm of Life”?). Ironically, it was the late, great Fosse’s film debut. More’s the pity he simply didn’t just provide a visual document of his original Broadway show; after all, it was Fosse who’d conceived the notion of a musical comedy based on Fellini’s 1957 film Nights of Cabiria as a vehicle for Broadway star Gwen Verdon (Mrs. Fosse at the time) and then put writer Neil Simon together with composer Cy Coleman and lyricist Dorothy Fields. Onstage, it simply worked great. The score produced two huge hit standards–“Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now”–and proved that fantasies about hookers (even though Charity’s called a “taxi dancer” here) with hearts of gold could provide mainstream entertainment years before Julia Roberts became Pretty Woman. Sony gives the rerelease its regular Broadway Masterworks series update treatment, with previously unreleased tracks, elongated songs (featuring material cut from the original album), interviews from opening night, and even composer Coleman performing three songs from the show with an orchestra for a long-unavailable album he cut in the late ’60s. –Bill Holdship
Sweet Charity: A New Musical Comedy (1966 Original Broadway Cast) Review
The concept of the musical is so dated that it is new again. The theme of the prostitute with the heart of gold may be an ancient one, but Sweet Charity is a musical that is filled with hope in a time where cynicism is rife. It’s nice to see a character who knows that life is tough, but isn’t afraid to keep on looking for the good in humanity. The music is still thoroughly enjoyable. -Read Reviews-
I had been looking for this for a while. Although I enjoy the film and later revivals, I wanted Gwen Verdon at the peak of her career.
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