Review: ‘Sweet Charity’ by The Heritage Players

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The minute I walked in the joint, I could see this would be a play of distinction. Indeed, a high kicking, rollicking good time at the 1960s Fandango Ballroom was had by all on the opening night of Sweet Charity by The Heritage Players. A feast for the senses, the tragic and comical musical was infused with vibrant energy by the skillful synergy of color, movement, music, song, and dance.

Katherine Sheldon (center) as Charity, and Anwar Thomas as Daddy Brubeck, in Sweet Charity by the Heritage Players. Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.
Katherine Sheldon (center) as Charity, and Anwar Thomas as Daddy Brubeck, in Sweet Charity by the Heritage Players. Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

Producers Jim Gross and Amy Haynes led The Heritage Players in creating a dazzling, energetic theatrical experience to kick off the spring season in grand style with the story of eternally optimistic Charity Hope Valentine. Talented director and choreographer Timoth David Copney directed some truly phenomenal dance performances. Sweet Charity is a tragic-comedy musical based on Federico Fellini’s screenplay for “Nights of Cabiria.” The stage version (book by Neil Simon, music by Cy Coleman, and lyrics by Dorothy Fields) adapted the story to be about a dancer-for-hire at a Times Square dance hall. Sweet Charity, the musical, was nominated for 9 Tony Awards, and has had numerous revivals and international productions.

Katherine Sheldon, in the lead role of Charity, skillfully invoked the character’s vulnerability and self-indignity as a dance hall hostess in 1960s New York, while gently leading the audience to love her fresh spiritedness. Sheldon showed the ability to round out the role to meet the high physical demands of the character as well, even when called upon for a magnificent cartwheel. The ups and downs of Charity’s love life in elevators, Ferris wheels, subway cars, celebrity bedrooms, and the dance floor all seemed hopeful through the character’s eyes, thanks to Sheldon’s expressive performance.

When Charity falls for Oscar, played by Adam Abruzzo, we think she has finally found true love, leaving at last her tendency of being “engaged to be engaged,” and “running her heart like a hotel.” But, will he stick around and be able to forget about her past? Abruzzo is convincing and plays the role with precise comedic timing as a hopeful Charity swirls around him, never to be disillusioned by her logical Fandango Ballroom gal pals.

Especially enjoyable was the effervescent performance by Ashley Gerhardt, a seasoned professional theater performer for nearly four decades. Gerhardt’s Nickie, a character who is sort of a house mother to Charity, was spectacular. Gerhardt’s delivery, presence, and voice were spot on as she cast a riveting spell on the audience, transporting them to the exact time and place of the Fandango Ballroom.

Costume Designers Andrew Malone and Lanoree Blake expressed the energy and comedy of the production with color and pizazz. Along with set designer Ryan Geiger, set dresser Debbie Mobley, and lighting designer Al Ramer, they embraced the 1960s period wholeheartedly.

Musical director Mari Hill and the orchestra, conducted by Patty DeLisle, provided toe-tapping musical storytelling and continuity with beautifully performed well-known tunes such as “Big Spender” and “If My Friends Could See Me Now.” Jim Gerhardt (real-life husband of Ashley Gerhardt), as Herman, delivered a splendid performance of “I Love to Cry at Weddings.” Anwar Thomas (Daddy Brubeck) and a hippy-dippy ensemble of singing, dancing new-age churchgoers who meet under a New York bridge, performed a fun-filled rendition of “Rhythm of Life.”

Apollo Duque, the canine performer in Sweet Charity by the Heritage Players. Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.
Apollo Duque, the canine performer in Sweet Charity by the Heritage Players. Photo by Shealyn Jae Photography.

Finally, whatever you are doing now, would you just stop and give a big round of paw-applause to the perfectly behaved, on-cue, and handsome canine performer, Apollo Duque? So, hey, all you big spenders, spend a little time with this show and it will show you fun, laughs and a really good time. You can bet your Nancy Sinatra boots on it.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, including an intermission.

Sweet Charity plays eight performances on weekends at 8 pm Fridays and Saturdays, and 2pm Sundays, through Sunday, April 29, 2018, at Thomas Rice Auditorium, Catonsville, Maryland. To purchase tickets, go online.

Note: Heritage Players is a revered Baltimore-area success story, with over four decades of quality productions and over $50,000 donated to local charitable organizations since 1975. This production, in addition to supporting the Spring Grove Hospital Center, where the company resides, will dedicate a portion of its funds to benefit the nonprofit charitable organization, I Support the Girls. To support the work of Heritage Players, join them at Peace a Pizza in Catonsville on May 1 for a fundraising event: Details here.