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THEATER REVIEW

Ringwald, `Charity' get off on the wrong foot

October 13, 2006|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

When it comes time to close the time capsule on the 1960s, it's highly doubtful that "Sweet Charity" will make the cut. Based on the 1957 Fellini film "Nights of Cabiria," the 1966 Broadway musical featured beloved Broadway stalwart Gwen Verdon and a much-lauded staging by Bob Fosse. By the time the charmless 1969 film starring Shirley MacLaine came around, the musical was showing signs of spoilage.

"Charity" has inexplicably been revived since then, most recently in the 2005 production starring Christina Applegate, who broke her foot in out-of-town previews but rallied in time for a Broadway run. One wouldn't wish such a fate on Molly Ringwald, the star of the current national tour, which just touched down at the Pantages for a limited run. However, a mildly twisted ankle might have left Ringwald in better stead than this unfortunate enterprise.

The '80s teen star plays dance hall hostess Charity Hope Valentine, a gullible floozy with a heart of gold who leaves no cliche unturned in her desperate search for love. Despite Neil Simon's noticeably creaky book, Cy Coleman's durable music and Dorothy Fields' lyrics still have the power to charm, if only intermittently. But, in order to outstrip its own limitations, the show requires a powerhouse performer in the title role.

Sadly, Ringwald is not that person. Intent upon getting a star name on the marquee, the producers have done Ringwald -- and her audience -- a grave disservice. Charity is a dancer's role that would tax the most lissome performer. Ringwald executes her modest dance moves with such plodding conscientiousness, she seems to be following an Arthur Murray dance-by-numbers floor chart. Add to that Ringwald's aggressively modest voice and her unvarying, glazed-eyed perkiness, and you've got problems, Houston.

Perhaps sensing a disaster in the making, director Scott Faris desperately overcompensates at every juncture, making the musical's already stereotypical characters almost surreally broad. He punches up every laugh line with such forcefulness, the result seems insultingly idiot-proofed.

The same applies for Wayne Cilento, who reprises his Tony-nominated choreography from the 2005 revival. Like Faris, Cilento has a tendency to punch up the proceedings -- quite literally. A particular case in point is the "Rich Man's Frug," in which the dancers -- high-tone New Yorkers at a trendy '60s nightclub -- throw punches at one another like manic boxers in the final round. On the surface, the sequence is a technical knockout, spectacularly executed by this worthy ensemble. Scratch that surface, though, and the overly showy number seems bizarrely misplaced.

More successfully showy is Scott Pask's Tony-nominated scenic design -- colorful period sets that draw applause in and of themselves. Although they often overplay, the mostly seasoned performers do their best under trying circumstances.

Most notable among the cast is Guy Adkins as Oscar, the mild-mannered accountant who falls for Charity. Trapped on an elevator with Charity, the claustrophobic Oscar climbs the walls, contorting himself into positions that would sprain a yoga master. Don Knotts in a centrifuge, his powerhouse performance is a welcome distraction in a largely thankless evening.

*

'Sweet Charity'

Where: Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays. Call for exceptions.

Ends: Oct. 22

Price: $25-$70

Contact: (323) 468-1770, (213) 365-3500

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Also

Where: Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Nov. 21-Dec. 3

Price: $20-$70

Contact: (714) 556-2787

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