EMU’s "Sweet Charity" is fun and unique but needs just a little more sugar


Isabella McQuigg stars as "Sweet" Charity Hope Valentine in EMU's production of the Broadway classic.

Isabella McQuigg stars as "Sweet" Charity Hope Valentine in EMU's production of the Broadway classic. Photo courtesy of EMU Theatre's Facebook page.

All is fair in love and dancing in Eastern Michigan University's production of Sweet Charity, running this weekend at the Legacy Theatre.

This beloved musical, which always pulls the heartstrings of hopeless romantics, was created by some of Broadway’s greatest: Cy Coleman (music), Dorothy Fields (lyrics), and Neil Simon (book), with the original Broadway show directed and choreographed by Bob Fosse. 

Set in 1966, the show follows Charity Hope Valentine (Isabella McQuigg), a hostess for the Fandango Ballroom in New York City, who wants more for herself. At the top of the show she is dating Charlie (Levi Greunke), and while she sees the relationship as perfect, it’s one-sided and he’s using her for her money. He even pushes Charity into the Central Park lake and steals all the money out of her purse. 

Having gone through another break-up, she leans on her fellow dancers who work to bring her back to reality. Charity tries to tell them that Charlie actually tried to save her from the lake, but they talk some sense back into her. 

After her shift is over, Charity gives away the last of her money to any and every beggar on the street, showing everyone how naive and gullible she can be. Outside the high-end Pompeii Club, she bumps into movie star Vittorio Vidal (Isaac Cantrell), who is fighting with his girlfriend Ursula (Kelsie Awbrey). Ursula refuses to go back into the club with Vidal, so he takes the eager Charity instead. Absolutely beside herself that a movie star would be talking to her, she fakes being lightheaded and faints so that Vidal will take her back to his apartment to lie down.

Once in his apartment, Charity asks Vidal for proof that she was there and he gives her a signed headshot and some props from his past movies. Ursula comes knocking on his door, begging for forgiveness, and Vidal puts Charity in the coat closet to hide her while he makes up with Ursula. Another man bites the dust.

Seeking some sort of culture and change in her life, Charity decides to take a class at the Y. Once there, she meets tax accountant Oscar Lindquist (Zackary Leshon), and they get stuck in the elevator together when it breaks down.

Charity keeps Oscar calm, and after the elevator starts working again, he invites her to go to church with him, which she agrees to. The Rhythm of Life Church turns out to be more about hippie culture and a police bust breaks up the meeting. 

While traveling back home on the subway, Charity lies about working at a bank, Oscar asks her on a second date, and as they part he calls her “Sweet Charity.”

Oscar and Charity continue to date and she continues to hide what her job actually is. Frustrated by her lack of success at work and fed up with the business, she finally quits. She admits to Oscar what she did for work but he says he already knew because he followed her one night. He says he doesn’t care what she did for work and asks her to marry him. 

But after a party to celebrate their engagement, Oscar goes back on his proposal, claiming he could never marry her because he will never stop thinking about the other men. Charity realizes the third time is not the charm, but at the end of the show she still has the hope that one day she will find true love and live, hopefully, happily ever after.

Isaac Cantrell is the show standout as Vittorio Vidal. Cantrell is charming, nails the character and the accent, and his voice is incredibly strong. I could have watched an entire show centered on his version of Vidal. On the flip side, I wish I had gotten more moments of McQuigg using her full singing voice as Charity as she talk-sang the majority of her songs.

The female ensemble is especially endearing together as the dancehall girls; they support each other and hype each other up like a sisterhood. It’s clear that they love sharing the stage and are having a blast while doing so. 

I give kudos to all the ensemble members for playing multiple roles in the show and being able to switch from one character to the next with ease. They also give the audience numerous moments of hilarity, having some awesome comedic one-liners and bit parts.

The set and property design by Brian Scruggs is a cool concept and well-executed but I felt it didn’t match the show. The grayscale pieces, created in 2-D, were beautifully made, but with Charity wearing the signature black dress, the lack of color on stage was out of place for a big musical set in New York City. The convention of the flat props was also broken numerous times, such as the telephone in the Pompeii Club, the bowl of fruit in Vidal’s apartment, and the bar cart, which made me wonder why some props were conceptualized and some weren’t. But the lighting design by Dustin D. Miller helped give us moments of beautiful color.

EMU's version of Sweet Charity is a fun and charming show with an uncommon look. With it being originated by such a powerhouse team of theater icons, it’s a large undertaking for any program or company. Adding just a little more pizazz and oomph would have made EMU’s production truly sweet.

Marley Boone is a theater professional who has been in the industry since 2015. While living in Philadelphia, she wrote theater reviews for DC Metro Arts.

“Sweet Charity“ runs October 19-21 at the Legacy Theatre, 1030 E Circle Dr, Ypsilanti, on the Eastern Michigan University campus. Visit emich.ludus.com for tickets and more information.