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`Sweet' antidote to `Sixteen'

A stint as Charity Hope Valentine may just help Molly Ringwald put the Brat Pack behind her.

October 08, 2006|Greg Braxton | Times Staff Writer

San Diego — DRESSED in a dark pantsuit and striking several poses, Molly Ringwald is doing her "Pretty in Black" thing as a photographer snaps away.

The bee-stung lips and freckles are less prominent than they were 20 years ago when she starred in "Pretty in Pink," and her waifish figure is curvier. But the signature red hair still makes her stand out in a crowd. She looks confident as she dutifully smiles, a mature version of the awkward high schooler she played in "The Breakfast Club," "Sixteen Candles" and other seminal coming-of-age films that put her on top of the pop culture ladder and on the cover of Time magazine.

Ask Ringwald about her life now and she is quick to produce a camera with a picture of her 3-year-old daughter. Ask about the past -- "Pretty in Pink" and how she pined after Andrew McCarthy's character at the prom -- and the smile fades. "I think I was blessed to be given the opportunity to be in those movies. I think they're great movies, and I'm proud of my work in them," she says quietly. "But on the other hand, to talk about something I did so long ago when I have continued to work and do other things is a little tiring. I just get bored. I keep going back to those movies when I don't have anything new to say about them."

What she does have something to talk about is the New Adventures of Old Molly. Her latest project hits the Pantages Theatre this week, complete with a large troupe of dancers, no shortage of bump 'n' grind and several show-stopping production numbers.

The show is more commonly known as "Sweet Charity."

She follows in the Fosse-trained dance steps of Gwen Verdon and Shirley MacLaine, who shined on stage and screen, respectively, in their portrayals of the unlucky but relentlessly hopeful dance hall girl Charity Hope Valentine. Last year's Broadway revival starred Christina Applegate, who received a Tony nomination.

For Ringwald, 38, the tour gives her a chance to return to the Los Angeles area, where she'll make her first stage appearance since 1999, when she starred in Paula Vogel's Pulitzer Prize-winning drama "How I Learned to Drive" at the Mark Taper Forum. That play focused on the troubling ongoing relationship between a young girl (Ringwald) and her pedophile uncle (Brian Kerwin).

Though she may seem at first like an unlikely song-and-dance marquee star, the actress points out that much of her post-Brat Pack career has centered on the stage. She made her Broadway debut in 2001 as Sally Bowles in the replacement cast of "Cabaret" and appeared in "Enchanted April" in 2003. She's also starred in "When Harry Met Sally" in London, and off-Broadway in "tick, tick ... BOOM," as well as "Modern Orthodox" with Jason Biggs and Craig Bierko. And she's been singing professionally, she says, since almost before she could talk. At 10, she appeared in the first West Coast production of "Annie."

Now she's the star attraction, strutting onstage with a top hat and cane. If ever a Charity seemed tailor-made for the jubilant number "If My Friends Could See Me Now," Ringwald would seem to fit the bill. And she welcomes the opportunity to show her stuff.

"Anyone who comes to see this because they're a fan of mine wouldn't expect the girl from those movies to be doing what I'm doing," she says, "and I wouldn't do it unless I could. I like to think I exceed expectations. I consider myself fairly courageous. People will be surprised -- they certainly were when I did 'Cabaret.' "

Still, audiences familiar with the show should not expect a Verdon or MacLaine clone. Ringwald admits that dancing is not her strong suit. During one of the musical's most well-known numbers, "I'm a Brass Band," where Charity celebrates the new love of her life, Ringwald remains mostly offstage while the show's dancers go through tightly choreographed moves.

"Dancing is definitely No. 3 on the list of things I consider myself to do well," she says. "When the producers asked me to do this, it was pretty clear I was not a dancer in the vein of Gwen or Shirley. I consider myself more of an actor-singer. It isn't important that Charity is this fantastic dancer. She is such a great character, it's more important that she be played by someone who can bring something special to it. I focus on that, and let the incredible dancing be picked up by everyone else."

Scott Faris, who is directing the touring company production, says the role's dance requirements are overrated. "The difference between Molly and the other well-known Charitys makes her stand out," he says. "She has a quality that wins the audience over. You know you're looking at a human being and not a machine. The audience really has to care about her, and the fact that the audience relates to her as a struggling human being is great."

Ringwald has earned mixed notices on the road. "OK, Molly: Dancing isn't your forte, but -- as you so convincingly sing in 'I'm a Brass Band' -- somebody does love you," wrote Michael L. Greenwald of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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