I’m going to be honest with you: before going to see Sweet Charity at the Canberra Theatre Centre, my only exposure to the musical had been a parody of “Big Spender” on The Simpsons. That said, the amount of space that “Featuring “Hey Big Spender”” took up on the poster makes me think I probably wasn’t the only one. So for those you who, like me, get your cultural references by reverse engineering Simpson’s episodes, here’s the scoop.
Charity Hope Valentine is a dance hall hostess, showing off her assets (and her incurable optimism) in the Fandango Ballroom. When she’s not dancing with men for money she’s busy being the epitome of looking for love in all the wrong places and yearns to escape with a decent man. Played with genuine warmth and humour by Verity Hunt-Ballard, Charity flits from suitor to suitor, with all the romantic leads played by a single actor, Martin Crewes. Crewes does a great job showing off his range as sleazy Charlie, exotic Vittorio and the endearingly neurotic Oscar, however this wasn’t even the most surprising transformation of the show, with ensemble member Lyndon Watts swapping effortlessly between male bouncer and leggy dance hostess.
This was emblematic of the versatility and liveliness of the whole cast, which, with the aid of some clever sliding glass panels, led you from lake to dance hall to a movie star’s apartment without ever missing a note. I’m sure the dancing was fantastic too, but I’m afraid most of my attention was stolen in those scenes by an incredibly impressive pair of arms, which I honestly believe deserved their own credit in the promotional material.
While some of the underlying messages of this sixties story may rile your inner feminist, Sweet Charity was a funny and entertaining musical with a lead actress you couldn’t help but like. The songs, both famous and less so, were good fun and the cast truly did them justice. Unfortunately the production has already packed up for their next location, so you’ll need to trek to Wollongong to catch it. But if you can make it through the bystander awkwardness of watching audience members dance on stage before the show starts and want to have the opening bars of “Big Spender” caught in your head for the next week or so, I couldn’t recommend a more pleasant way of doing so.
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