Community Theatre of Little Rock
“Sweet Charity” is one of the great old mid-century musicals that is endlessly revived and usually endlessly pleasing. Unfortunately, those musicals in general, and this one particularly, are grand, big productions that call for big sets (this play includes scenes in Coney Island and Times Square) and great costumes (there are prostitutes, members of an alternative, hippie church and famous actors and actresses). The Community Theatre of Little Rock, opening its 51st season with “Sweet Charity,” simply does not have the resources to pull it off.
“Damn Yankees,” which closed CTLR’s 50th season, had similar problems but smaller demands. In the case of “Sweet Charity,” though, the play asks too much and this theater troupe cannot deliver. Coming up short in this fashion forces the play to fall into camp, almost farce. When the ensemble of hippies came on stage for the alternative church scene. the costumes and wigs were so bad that members of the audience actually laughed. The entire set for Coney Island was made up of a bench and two rows of colored lights, meant to represent a Ferris wheel.
While we are loathe to blame the CTLR for having limited resources, we also have to wonder why they keep choosing plays that they are not equipped for and thus cannot do well. Alternatively, they could pare down the productions and purposefully do the plays in a minimalist style. Instead, they reach too high and just cannot make it.
”Sweet Charity” is a sweet story with some great musical numbers and some funny and smart lines, and the CTLR cast provides some strong performances. The talented Sarah Scott Blakey plays the title character, a dancehall hostess determined to leave that life and make something of herself. While the ensemble, sets, and costume are so campy and silly that they reminded us of a John Waters movie, Blakey, despite some problems with the dancing, is a great performer and manages to keep the play somewhat down to earth. She’s reason enough to see the play. Dannette Scott Perry has a strong voice and is convincing as one of Charity’s friends, Nickie. Carl Scott Carter, who plays Oscar, Charity’s eventual love interest, is more self-conscious on stage than he needs to be.
While the story is simple enough, the musical numbers in particular drag on, and the play runs well over two hours. Director Elizabeth Reha must pick up the pace if she wants to keep audience members in their seats instead of fleeing at intermission.
The show will be performed Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Woolly Auditorium on the Arkansas School for the Blind campus.